Environmental Must-Reads – March 23, 2015


New Federal Rules Are Set for Fracking

The Obama administration on Friday unveiled the nation’s first major federal regulations on hydraulic fracturing, a technique for oil and gas drilling that has led to a significant increase in American energy production but has also raised concerns about health and safety risks.

The Interior Department began drafting the rules, focused on drilling safety, in Mr. Obama’s first term after breakthroughs in the technology, also known as fracking, led to a surge in the production of oil and gas.

Interior unveils BLM frack rule — FracFocus in, waste pits out

The Obama administration released its final rule today for drilling and hydraulic fracturing on federal land, its biggest foray yet into the divisive issue many call “fracking.”

The rule, announced by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, offered something for each side in the divisive debate.

Obama’s controversial new fracking rules, explained

On Friday, the Obama administration put out the first new federal rules for hydraulic fracturing in more than 30 years, moving to address some of the growing environmental and health concerns around the practice.

The new standards, by the Bureau of Land Management, will require oil and gas drillers on federal lands to disclose the chemicals they use in fracking. Companies will also face stricter standards in both constructing wells and disposing wastewater afterward.

Americans Split on Support for Fracking in Oil, Natural Gas

The practice of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” has emerged as a divisive issue across the U.S., reflected in Americans’ opinions about it; 40% of Americans say they favor the procedure, while 40% oppose it, and a substantial 19% do not have an opinion. This is amid the Obama administration last week announcing the first nationwide safety rules for fracking.

Oil Industry Immediately Challenges First Federal Fracking Rules

U.S. drillers already reeling from a six-month drop in oil prices denounced new U.S. fracking regulations as costly and unnecessary, and quickly met them with a lawsuit.

After three years of debate, the U.S. Interior Department said Friday that drillers on federal land must reveal the chemicals they use, meet construction standards for wells and safely dispose of contaminated water.

Washington’s redundant fracking regulations

The Department of Interior on Friday announced new fracking regulations for federal and Indian lands, issuing the first nationwide federal regulations of the booming industry.

The regulations include rules about wastewater disposal, standards for well construction, and requirements for disclosure of the chemicals used in fracking fluid.

Groups Pan ‘Toothless’ Fracking Rules As Industry Giveaway

The Obama administration on Friday unveiled the nation’s first major federal regulations on fracking, sparking negative responses from green groups, who say the “toothless” new rules don’t go far enough to protect public health and the environment and represent a “giveaway” to the fossil fuel industry.

The Interior Department regulations (pdf), the result of four years of study and debate, apply only to public lands—despite the fact that the vast majority of oil and gas drilling activity takes place on private lands.

The U.S. Just Got New Environmental Rules For Fracking, And Republicans Are Freaking Out

On Friday afternoon, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released its final version of rules governing the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, on America’s public lands. Under the rules, companies that want to frack on lands like national parks and forests would have to comply with stronger standards to protect the environment.

Republicans and the oil industry are not happy about this. So unhappy, in fact, they’ve already taken up drastic measures to stop the rule. According to Politico, 27 Senate Republicans have introduced a bill to block them, and two oil industry groups have filed a lawsuit to nullify them.

Frackman’s accidental activist: ‘There’s blood in the water and I’m the shark’

Josh Fox’s 2010 anti-fracking exposé GasLand has one jaw-dropping moment, the kind of gasp-inducing money shot that singlehandedly sold it as a must-see documentary. Investigating the effects of coal seam gas exploration on land around his property in rural Pennsylvania, the first-time film-maker visits a neighbour who promises to show him something shocking.

Stuck to the wall above the kitchen sink is a piece of paper with a handwritten warning reading: “Do Not Drink This Water.” To demonstrate why, the neighbour puts a cigarette lighter directly underneath the tap and turns it on. What we see next beggars belief: the water has become so contaminated it erupts into a gigantic fireball.

Global Shale Fail: Oil Majors Leaving Fracking Fields Across Europe, Asia

With some analysts predicting the global price of oil to see another drop, many oil majors have deployed their parachutes and jumped from the hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) projects rapidly nose-diving across the world.

As The Wall Street Journal recently reported, the unconvetional shale oil and gas boom is still predominantly U.S.-centric, likely to remain so for years to come.

Environmentalists Challenge Algeria Fracking

In an effort to capitalize on potential shale gas reserves and meet a rapidly rising domestic demand, the Algerian state company Sonatrach announced last year it will begin production of its shale gas fields by 2020. The $70 billion hydraulic fracturing project is expected to bring in profits from energy exports as well as meet a rising domestic demand.

The project, however, is facing wide public scrutiny. Recent protests across the country have turned violent, as local populations cite environmental concerns over the fracking process. Though the government has been able to contain the protests to an extent, it will need to address these popular concerns to move forward.

Northeast gas pipeline advances, to landowner dismay

The 124-mile Constitution Pipeline will likely bring some relief from high natural gas prices to residents of New York City and New England, but it will also bring anguish to some landowners in the wooded hills and valleys in its path.

It will slash a mile-long gash through a pristine forest tended by the Kernan family for seven decades. It will spoil Andrew Havas’ plans to build a home and automotive shop. It will disrupt farming operations for dairyman Ken Stanton. It will dash hopes Bob Lidsky and Bev Travis had of building the hilltop home where they planned to retire with their five huge mountain dogs.

Pipeline would carry natural gas liquids through 18 Kentucky counties under controversial plan

A company’s proposal to change the product flowing through an existing natural gas pipeline, and to reverse the flow through that interstate line, is drawing increasing concern and comment from Kentuckians.

Of particular concern to people in Lebanon and Marion County is the possibility of an explosion in the underground line or a leak and resulting contamination of the Rolling Fork River, a drinking water supply for Marion and parts of Taylor and LaRue counties, said John G. Mattingly, a former Marion County judge-executive.

Environmentalists play ‘Whac-A-Mole’ to stall crude-by-rail projects

When an oil company’s expansion plans for Pacific Northwest crude by rail suffered a major setback last month, environmentalists spread the news just as quickly as they could Google “Skagit County Hearing Examiner.”

The little-known local office about an hour north of Seattle holds the keys to land use in the area, and environmental attorneys saw it as the best shot to stall a rail extension considered critical for the delivery of crude oil to a nearby Shell Oil Co. refinery, but potentially disastrous for nearby estuaries and communities.

Minnesotans living in oil train ‘danger zones’ urged to be prepared

The 20,000 Clay County residents who live near railroad tracks carrying North Dakota crude oil should be prepared for a train accident, a state emergency management official says.

“If you live by the train, people need to take some personal awareness of what’s around them,” Kevin Reed of the Minnesota Homeland Security and Emergency Management department said. “‘How do I get out of the way before the fire department gets here?’”

US oil train accidents won’t go away any time soon

There have been several high-profile oil-by-rail accidents in the last couple of months.

Should we be worried about shipping crude oil by rail?

The short answer is yes.

The longer answer is that it’s complicated. And this mode of transporting oil isn’t going away anytime soon.

CN Rail derailment numbers soared before recent crashes

Canadian National Railway’s safety record deteriorated sharply in 2014, reversing years of improvements, as accidents in Canada blamed on poor track conditions hit their highest level in more than five years, a Reuters analysis has found.

Canada’s Transportation Safety Board (TSB) said on Tuesday that track failure may have played a role in CN’s three recent Ontario accidents, which have fueled calls for tougher regulation. The agency said oil unit trains, made up entirely of tank cars, could make tracks more susceptible to failure.

Climate-sceptic US senator given funds by BP political action committee

One of America’s most powerful and outspoken opponents of climate change regulation received election campaign contributions that can be traced back to senior BP staff, including chief executive Bob Dudley.

Jim Inhofe, a Republican senator from Oklahoma who has tirelessly campaigned against calls for a carbon tax and challenges the overwhelming consensus on climate change, received $10,000 (£6,700) from BP’s Political Action Committee (PAC).

Citizens mobilize to hold BP accountable for lingering oil

While snowbirds sunned on the beach, Joey Whibbs waded along the edge of the Gulf of Mexico on Fort Pickens Beach on a recent Sunday, stopping every few feet and scooping a net into the shifting white sand below the surface.

Just about every other scoop revealed tarballs the size of dimes and quarters mingled in with sea shells, pieces of peat and other organic marine material in the bottom of the net.

Gulf of Mexico drills keep spinning despite oil price plunge

The flurry of drilling may be slowing on land because of falling oil prices, but production in the Gulf of Mexico shows no signs of slowing down, a new report finds.

Six new deepwater projects will become operational this year, boosting output by 177,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day and setting the stage for the second year of production growth in the Gulf, according to a new report by energy analyst firm Wood Mackenzie.

Artists take on the oil spill anniversary

Five years ago the first oil was spotted coating the surface of the Gulf after the Deepwater Horizon blowout. In the coming weeks, that oil spread to our local beaches. In it’s newest exhibit, the History Museum of Mobile is taking a unique look back at this disaster and it’s impacts on our area.

Jacqlyn Kirkland with the museum explained, “In planning this exhibit we asked local artists to loan us piece of their work that they think represents what was at stake during the oil spill.”

Green Groups press for $100 million state Oil Spill Fund

Environmental groups are pushing state lawmakers bulk up the state’s Oil Spill Fund.

They see a need for $100 million set aside, not $40 million as is currently proposed in the executive and legislative budgets.

And they have asked Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislators to leave the money within the purview of the State Comptroller’s Office and not move the fund to State Department of Environmental Conservation coffers.

Shell, ENI Responsible for 550 Oil Spills In Nigeria Last Year

Late last year, it came to light that Shell had been warned repeatedly by its own staff that the Trans Niger Pipeline was at significant risk of failure well before a 2008 spill of 500,000 barrels of oil. It was also revealed that Shell had drastically understated the extent of the spill.

These revelations were made during the proceedings of a lawsuit brought by a group of 15,000 Nigerians over a second spill from the same pipeline and helped lead to a much heftier payment by the company to the Bodo community in the Niger Delta in compensation for the impacts of both spills.

Will Chevron and Exxon Ever Be Held Responsible for Decades of Contamination?

The International Court of Justice at The Hague ruled last week that a prior ruling by an Ecuadorean court that fined Chevron $9.5 billion in 2011 should be upheld, according to teleSUR, a Latin American news agency. Texaco, which is currently a part of Chevron, is responsible for what is considered one of the world’s largest environmental disasters while it drilled for oil in the Ecuadorian rainforest from 1964 to 1990.

After mystery spill ravaged bay, law pushed to galvanize response

Two California senators, angered by the tepid reaction to a mystery goo that has killed hundreds of birds on San Francisco Bay, are introducing legislation Monday to close a loophole that effectively froze state funding and prevented a unified multiagency response to the crisis.

Sens. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, and Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, say SB718 would create a funding mechanism for the rescue and rehabilitation of wildlife harmed by marine spills involving non-petroleum-based substances.

Inside Ottawa’s $24-million oil ad campaign

The multimillion-dollar campaign to market Canadian oil in the U.S. was hard to miss.

The Maple Leaf was plastered on the walls of subway stops in Washington, D.C., and it popped up in all sorts of American publications with messages such as “America’s Best Energy Partner” and “Friends and Neighbors.”

Documents obtained by The Canadian Press offer a peek into the careful strategic considerations and internal discussions behind the $1.6-million (U.S.) ad campaign launched in 2013. That blitz was followed up by a $24-million, two-year international program that wraps up this month.

Enbridge racks up $264,000 in National Energy Board penalties this month

The National Energy Board has slapped pipeline builder Enbridge Inc. with $264,000 in penalties, with most of that sum stemming from safety and environmental hazards related to maintenance work on an oil pipeline in Manitoba last summer.

An inspection in July revealed numerous problems along a stretch of Line 3 around Cromer, Man. Landowners in the area complained to the NEB about open excavations, improper handling of topsoil and several other concerns.

Shell oil drilling in Arctic set to get US government permission

The US government is expected this week to give the go-ahead to a controversial plan by Shell to restart drilling for oil in the Arctic.

The green light from Sally Jewell, the interior secretary, will spark protests from environmentalists who have campaigned against proposed exploration by the Anglo-Dutch group in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas off Alaska.

Judge OKs lawsuit over lease for Shell Arctic drilling fleet

A lawsuit challenging the Port of Seattle’s decision to lease one of its terminals as a homeport for an Arctic oil-drilling fleet can go forward, a Washington state judge ruled Friday.

Environmental groups say the port broke state law in February when it signed a two-year lease with Foss Maritime Co. to rent 50 acres at Terminal 5 near downtown Seattle. Foss’ client is Royal Dutch Shell PLC, which plans to base its Arctic fleet there.

Arctic sea ice hits record low winter peak

It’s official: When the sea ice that blankets the Arctic Ocean hit its yearly peak on Feb. 25, the maximum area was a record low.

Warm temperatures in parts of the polar regions kept sea ice levels depressed, and also contributed to the winter peak occurring much earlier than usual, the National Snow & Ice Data Center announced Thursday. The maximum normally isn’t reached until early March, but was recorded about a week early this year, the NSIDC said. That low occurred on the backdrop of overall dwindling sea ice levels, fueled by global warming.

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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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