Environmental Must-Reads – March 21, 2013


Energy firms, environmental groups agree on tough new fracking standards

In an unlikely partnership between longtime adversaries, some of the nation’s biggest energy companies and environmental groups have agreed on a voluntary set of standards for gas and oil fracking in the Northeast that appear to go further than existing state and federal pollution regulations.

New center to set stringent standards for fracking in East

A coalition of energy companies, environmentalists and Pennsylvania philanthropies have created a new center that would provide more stringent standards for fracking of natural gas in parts of the eastern United States.

Tough fracking standards part of deal

Some of the nation’s biggest oil and gas companies have made peace with environmentalists, agreeing to a set of tough standards for fracking in the Northeast that could lead to a major expansion of drilling.

The program announced Wednesday will work a lot like Underwriters Laboratories, which puts its familiar UL seal of approval on electrical appliances that meet its standards.

NY Appeals Court to Consider Local Fracking Bans

A state appeals court was to hear two cases that pit the right of towns to control land use through zoning against the drilling industry and landowners who say state law trumps local authority when it comes to oil and gas development in New York.

Anti-Fracking Group Criticizes Energy Nominee for Not Disclosing Industry Ties

A watchdog group that opposes fracking for natural gas released a report on Wednesday that criticizes the president’s choice to be energy secretary, Ernest J. Moniz, for failing to disclose in an energy study that he led his ties to the natural gas industry.

Pennsylvania Judge Orders Records Opened in Fracking Case

A Pennsylvania judge, handing a victory to local media and health groups, ordered documents unsealed in a settlement between gas-drillers and homeowners who accused the companies of contaminating their water.

California bills could delay fracking

Fracking for oil and natural gas in California could slam to a halt, at least temporarily, under legislation circulating in Sacramento.

One bill calls for a moratorium on the practice until the state conducts a sweeping study of fracking’s benefits and risks, including the potential for groundwater contamination.

Conn. bill bans hydraulic fracturing waste

State lawmakers are considering a bill that would prohibit hydraulic fracturing waste from being treated, discharged, disposed of, or stored in the state of Connecticut.

The General Assembly’s Energy and Technology Committee is scheduled to vote Thursday on the proposed legislation.

Gas Industry Loses Fight to Keep Fracking Pollution Case Secret

A judge ruled today in favor of journalists seeking access to information about a fracking pollution court case.

Judge Debbie O’Dell-Seneca reversed an order by a Washington County court sealing the record in a case in which a Pennsylvania family sued several gas companies over property damage and health impacts related to air and water pollution from nearby natural gas operations.

Obama Administration Energy Blueprint: paying companies to drill

Last week the Obama Administration issued a new Energy Blueprint. There are some excellent elements in the White House proposal, including doubling renewable electricity generation by 2020, cutting energy waste, and supporting energy efficiency.

But there are also dirty and depressing energy proposals in the plan. Among them: “monetary incentives to get oil and gas leases into production.” We haven’t seen details on this yet, and need to learn more, but the oil and gas industry doesn’t need more giveaways from the taxpayers.

New Technology Records Baseline Methane Emissions Prior to Construction of Fracking Infrastructure

Many know fracking’s iconic image: a faucet spewing flaming water, but fewer realize that it’s largely methane, the main constituent of natural gas, burning. Since 90 percent of natural gas is methane, methane levels directly reflect the amount of natural gas in an area.

Federal judge dismisses claims against drilling fluids supplier in BP oil spill trial

The federal judge overseeing the 2010 BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill trial dismissed claims Wednesday against the Houston-based company that supplied drilling fluids to the British oil giant for its Macondo well.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys also rested their case in the sprawling civil trial, which will determine liability for the fire and explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon that killed 11 workers and led to one of the largest oil spills in the nation’s history.

Claims against BP contractors dismissed at trial

A federal judge dismissed claims Wednesday against a BP contractor and the company that made a safety device on the rig that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, triggering the 2010 Gulf oil spill.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier ruled, after plaintiffs’ attorneys rested their case Wednesday, there was no evidence that BP’s drilling fluids contractor M-I LLC made any decision that led to the blowout of BP’s Macondo well, according to The Associated Press.

Gulf Hit with Dirty Blizzard After Oil Spill

A federal trial to determine responsibility and how much oil actually spilled from the Deepwater Horizon rig continues in New Orleans. While executives testify, scientists are trying to solve a mystery: Where millions of gallons of oil actually went.

Governor Jindal visits giant Louisiana sinkhole in Bayou Corne

It took seven months, but Governor Bobby Jindal publicly met with residents who are affected by the giant sinkhole in Bayou Corne. Tuesday was the first time Governor Jindal met with the residents since the sinkhole forced more than 300 people to evacuate their homes.

Governor Jindal Visits Bayou Corne Sinkhole, Meets With Impacted Families

Governor Bobby Jindal traveled to Bayou Corne Tuesday to hold a briefing with local officials on the sinkhole and contingency plan for Oxy-Geismar 1 and meet with families who have been impacted by the sinkhole.

Governor Jindal said, “We came to Bayou Corne to get a firsthand look at the sinkhole clean-up, contingency plan progress for Oxy-Geismar 1, and also meet with residents whose lives have been uprooted by the sinkhole.

“We are making progress on the sinkhole clean-up and contingency plan, and moving forward quickly to take all steps necessary to protect the lives and property in this community. Texas Brine has agreed to start the buyout process, and it’s a step in the right direction, but the proof will be in the results. The bottom line is that Texas Brine is responsible for the sinkhole, and we remain committed to making sure that they clean up their mess.”

Massive Sinkhole In Louisiana Baffles Officials

Louisiana officials are grappling with a giant sinkhole that’s threatening a neighborhood. A salt mine collapsed last year, creating a series of problems regulators say they’ve never seen before, including tremors and oil and gas leaks and a sinkhole that now covers 9 acres.

Residents have been evacuated for more than seven months now and are losing patience.

Buoyancy of oil sands bitumen raises spill concerns

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver this week told a Vancouver audience that British Columbians have nothing to fear from Pacific exports of Canadian oil sands crude.

“We have taken significant measures to protect against a spill,” the minister said.

But one of the country’s top oil spill experts says exports of heavy crude pose added risks to the West Coast, since some oil sands blends are likely to sink in the case of a spill, complicating potential cleanup efforts.

Enbridge cleanup may cost $1-billion, company warns

Increasing dredging requirements resulting from Enbridge’s massive oil spill into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River in 2010 could push the cleanup bill to almost $1-billion, above and beyond what is covered by the insurance of the company’s U.S. affiliate, that unit reported on Wednesday.

Poll: Majority of Americans Want Congress Out of Keystone XL Pipeline Decision, Oppose “Eminent Domain,” Worry About Water, Wildlife

With the U.S. Senate poised to vote on the Keystone XL pipeline this week, a new national poll commissioned by the Center for Biological Diversity finds that a majority of Americans oppose Congressional intervention requiring the construction of the 1,700-mile oil pipeline from Canada to Texas. A majority also oppose the use of “eminent domain” — taking private property without landowner approval — and are concerned about the pipeline’s impact on water and wildlife.

Poll: President Obama voters don’t want Keystone

Environmentalists armed with new poll numbers have a warning for President Barack Obama: Approving the Keystone XL pipeline would put him at odds with core members of his base.

The poll reveals an electorate deeply split on the Canada-to-Texas oil pipeline, which is wildly popular among Republicans and almost equally unpopular among Democrats. A small majority of people overall either support the project or don’t know what to think, according to results provided to POLITICO.

US gets tough on Arctic oil drilling

DRILLING for oil in the Arctic could get a lot tougher. The US is considering strict rules to protect the fragile polar environment, after a report found Shell tried to drill there while underprepared.

Shell attempted to drill exploratory wells in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas last year, but ran into problems: drilling rigs ran aground and vessels did not meet environmental standards. The company is now holding off until 2014, when ConocoPhillips also plans to drill in the Chukchi Sea.

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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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