Environmental Must-Reads – March 20, 2015


Fracking Rules Expected to Be Unveiled by Obama Administration Friday

The Obama administration on Friday is expected to issue long-awaited regulations setting new standards for hydraulic fracturing in the oil and natural-gas industries, people familiar with the matter said.

The drilling technology, commonly known as fracking, has been key to unlocking vast reserves of oil and gas across the U.S., but qualms about its environmental impact have made it controversial.

Amendment to weaken fracking liability bill defeated in Maryland Senate

A bill to hold fracking companies more responsible for damages they cause remained intact after senators defeated an amendment Thursday that would have removed words describing the natural gas extraction process as “ultrahazardous and abnormally dangerous.”

The vote pitted lawmakers who say hydraulic fracturing will create economic opportunities in the state against those who say not enough information is known about the drilling method, which pumps highly pressurized water, sand and chemicals into the ground.

Fracking Radiation

Radioactive waste produced by hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” is making headlines all over gas land, particularly in North Dakota’s booming Bakken gas and oil field.

National news coverage of the scandalous illegal dumping of radioactive filter “socks” there  — on Indian Reservations no less — has led North Dakota’s legislature to consider changes to its radioactive waste laws so that fracking’s contaminated wastes can be dumped in ordinary landfills.

Fracking project gets water quality certification from DEQ

A proposed oil drilling and fracking project in St. Tammany Parish received a water quality certification from the state on Thursday (March 19), moving the controversial project a step forward. After reviewing Helis Oil & Gas Co.’s plans, the state Department of Environmental Quality ruled the project will not violate state water quality standards and is in accordance with Louisiana’s Water Quality Management Plan and all applicable laws and regulations.

The project, which is being challenged in court, still needs a wetlands permit from the Army Corps of Engineers.

No Fracking in State Parks, Ohio House Democrats and Republicans Surprisingly Agree

In a surprising move for a polarized Ohio legislature controlled by far-right Republicans cozy with fossil fuel interests, its House Energy and Natural Resources committee voted 12-0 Tuesday to ban fracking in state parks. The full bill, which aims to speed up the drilling permitting process, was then passed unanimously on the House floor Wednesday. It now heads to the Senate.

Nebraska commission blocks some from testifying about fracking disposal site

The Nebraska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission will not allow residents who live more than a half-mile radius from a proposed disposal site for a Sioux City injection well to testify at a public hearing.

About two dozen people and corporations qualify as interested parties, and will be allowed to testify before the three-member commission on March 24. Oil and Gas Director Bill Sydow said the commission is merely following the rules by blocking some people from testifying.

Kansas regulators order some fracking activity to decrease

The Kansas Corporation Commission, which regulates energy in Kansas, has issued an order requiring those who operate saltwater disposal wells to reduce the amount of saltwater injected into certain areas of Harper and Sumner counties.

The Kansas Geological Survey identified areas of seismic concern in those counties, as part of a task force, started by Governor Sam Brownback, to investigate a possible correlation between fracking and earthquakes.

Oil industry says new rule will lower use of freshwater

A new rule approved by the state Oil Conservation Commission will allow oil and gas producers to reuse water produced during drilling.

Industry officials say the rule, which allows companies to store drilling water in open pits, will lead to a reduction in the use of fresh water for drilling and hydraulic fracturing.

Judge: Gas pipeline can cross holdout Pennsylvania properties

The companies backing a 124-mile pipeline designed to ferry cheap Marcellus Shale natural gas to New York and New England can build across seven northeastern Pennsylvania properties whose owners had not agreed to it, a judge ruled.

U.S. District Judge Malachy Mannion ruled that the Constitution Pipeline has the necessary permits from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and that it serves the public interest by providing additional natural gas pipeline capacity.

Pipeline company offers reassurances after recent spill

The company responsible for the largest saltwater pipeline spill in North Dakota’s history answered questions Wednesday about lessons learned as it proposes to build new crude oil pipelines in the state.

Meadowlark Midstream and Epping Transmission Co., both subsidiaries of Summit Midstream, presented to the North Dakota Public Service Commission plans for a 14-mile transmission pipeline in Williams County.

Mountain Valley Pipeline, West Virginia landowners bring legal threats, action into pipeline fight

Several West Virginia landowners have resisted land surveyors with Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC, and now some of them are bringing the battle to court.

Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC, a joint venture between EQT Corp., NextEra Energy, WGL Midstream and Vega Midstream MVP LLC, has proposed to build a 300-mile natural gas transmission pipeline — called the Mountain Valley Pipeline — between Wetzel County, West Virginia and Pittsylvania County, Virginia.

Danger zone: 326,170 Minnesotans live near oil train tracks

State officials estimate that 326,170 Minnesotans live within a half mile of railroad tracks that carry crude oil, a distance often known as the danger zone.

People within a half mile of tracks usually will be evacuated if an oil train could explode or catch fire after a derailment.

Top 10 Questions About Oil Trains: Industry Lobbies for Weak Rules While Derailment Fire Rages

On Friday, March 6, while an oil train explosion in Illinois was still sending flames and black smoke into the air, railroad agents were in Washington, DC lobbying to weaken new train safety standards. Safer brakes are “extremely costly…” they told White House officials, and explained in great detail why speed limits are impractical. Like the auto industry resisting seatbelts, the rail industry is on the wrong track when it comes to safety.

In the last month, there have been six derailments of crude oil trains in the U.S. and Canada — three of them ignited, sending flames and mushroom clouds hundreds of feet into the air. Luckily, these were in relatively remote locations and no one was killed.

Ontario oil-train wrecks ignite worry over Canada crude flammability

Two recent oil-train derailments in Canada have opened a new front on the debate over safety, highlighting how even shipments of Alberta’s oil sands crude can contain components just as volatile as North Dakota’s Bakken.

Although Canada is best known for producing viscous bitumen that is not prone to ignite on its own, it is often blended with as much as one-third super-light oil – known as condensate – before it is shipped in rail cars, injecting the same kind of volatile gases that can explode in derailments, industry experts say.

North Dakota reviews oil-train safety

There’s no way to offer a single solution that would allay concerns about the safety of crude oil transit by rail, North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple said.

Dalrymple spoke with U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx to discuss efforts to improve the safe transport of crude oil by rail from the state. The Republican governor said he called on the secretary to adopt new standards for rail cars carrying crude oil as soon as possible.

BP spars with states, feds over Gulf of Mexico health

Sniping between BP and the governments affected by the oil giant’s Gulf of Mexico 2010 oil spill is reaching a fever pitch as the five-year anniversary of the largest spill in U.S. history approaches.

The latest episode in the fallout from the April 2010 incident revolves around a report BP released this week that said the data that has been collected “do not indicate a significant long-term impact to the population of any Gulf species.”

Equipment failure, human error top reasons for oil spills in the West

A coalition of Western states that tracks oil spills reports 1,176 spills of 42 gallons (one barrel) or more in sullied local grounds in 2013.

Collectively, the spills sent 74,833 gallons of crude and non-crude oil into the waters of Oregon, California, Washington, Alaska, Hawaii and British Columbia.

Judge Dismisses Mayflower, Arkansas Oil Spill Lawsuit

A federal class-action lawsuit against Exxon Mobil Corporation over a 2013 crude oil spill in central Arkansas has been dismissed by a federal judge, who acknowledged in his ruling that his decision seems unfair.

U.S. District Judge Brian Miller on dismissed the lawsuit with prejudice, meaning it cannot be refiled.

Exxon finishes $1.3 million in work from 2011 Montana spill

Exxon Mobil Corp. has completed $1.3 million in environmental projects as part of its settlement of water pollution violations from a 2011 pipeline break into Montana’s Yellowstone River.

The Texas oil giant paid for emergency training for local responders, fisheries improvement projects on the river and new leak detection equipment for the state.

MT DEQ Signs Off on Exxon Moblie Special Projects After 2011 Oil Spill

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality says they’re satisfied with Exxon Mobile’s supplemental environmental projects or SEP’s associated with the oil spill in 2011 near Laurel. The company spent more than $1.3 million in SEP’s that enhance river channels, emergency response capabilities, air quality monitoring and fish habitats.

In July 2011, the Silvertip Pipeline broke near Laurel after high runoff and flooding. It released about 1,500 barrels of crude oil into the Yellowstone River.

Congressman: The Keystone XL Pipeline Is Worth Building Even If It Only Creates One Job

Republicans frequently frame their support for the Keystone XL pipeline as a jobs-creation initiative. “The nearly six-year delay in approving Keystone is costing Americans more than 100,000 jobs,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) erroneously wrote in an op-ed last year.

One GOPer, though, is so gung-ho about Keystone XL that he’s willing to back the idea even if it only creates a single job.

U.S. State Department still reviewing Keystone pipeline -White House

The U.S. State Department is still reviewing TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline project, White House senior adviser Brian Deese told reporters on Thursday.

Deese declined to give a timeline on when the process would be finished, but he said President Barack Obama believes the United States should be setting its sights higher than the debate around one pipeline.

Quebec aboriginals say TransCanada pipeline review flawed

The Canadian government’s review of TransCanada Corp’s proposed Energy East pipeline is deeply flawed, Quebec aboriginal leaders said on Thursday, signaling they could line up with opponents of the C$12 billion ($9.43 billion) project.

In a letter sent to Canada’s natural resources minister and distributed to the media on Thursday, Ghislain Picard, chief of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador, criticized the federal government for failing to consult aboriginal communities on the scope of the review.

More Pipeline Safety Violation Allegations Arise At TransCanada

Canada’s energy regulator is investigating up to a dozen new allegations of natural gas pipeline safety-code violations at TransCanada Corp, according to documents reviewed by Reuters.

The regulator, the National Energy Board (NEB), and the company confirmed an investigation is under way but offered few details of the allegations.

Coalition branded climate-change deniers over North Sea oil boost

Plans to boost the North Sea oil industry, announced in the budget, could lead to the UK emitting tens of millions more tonnes of CO2 over the next five years, Guardian analysis reveals.

The chancellor, George Osborne, this week announced a package of measures in the budget designed to help boost North Sea oil production in the face of plummeting global oil prices. The moves include tax cuts on profits for oil producers, a new investment allowance, and funding for seismic surveys to help find oil deposits. In all, the measures will cost the exchequer £1.3bn over the next five years.

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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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