Environmental Must-Reads – March 26, 2015


Maryland Senate Passes Bill To Declare Fracking An ‘Ultrahazardous Activity’

On Tuesday, Maryland legislators passed legislation that would place strong limits on the extraction of natural gas in the state.

The Maryland House of Delegates passed a three-year moratorium on hydraulic fracturing — or fracking — in the Western part of the state, while the Maryland Senate approved a bill that would impose strict financial liabilities on fracking companies and would declare fracking an “ultrahazardous and abnormally dangerous activity.” The bills must pass through the other chambers before heading to the desk of Republican Governor Larry Hogan for approval.

Whatever happened to the great European fracking boom?

The European shale gas boom has not materialized in the way that some were predicting. We are a far cry from the situation a few years ago, where interest in fracking in Europe was gathering pace on the back of the successes in North America.

The UK appeared to be leading the way, with drilling activities in northwest and southeast England. Companies started snapping up exploration licenses right across the continent, and prospects from Scandinavia to the Urals found themselves being eagerly appraised.

So what’s happened, and what do the prospects for Europe look like now?

North Dakota Might Challenge New Federal Fracking Rule

North Dakota is considering challenging a new federal fracking rule for U.S. government lands.

The Obama administration is requiring companies that drill for oil and gas on federal lands to disclose chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing drilling technique. A final rule released Friday also updates requirements for well construction and disposal of water and other fluids. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management rule, under consideration for more than three years, takes effect in June.

Senate Committee Advances “Denton Fracking Bill”

A Senate committee gave unanimous approval Tuesday to a bill that would limit local control over oil and gas activities across Texas — a measure being referred to as the “Denton fracking bill.”

The proposal is among nearly a dozen filed in the aftermath of the North Texas town’s vote in November to ban hydraulic fracturing within city limits, and it’s among those most likely to pass.

House, Senate pass measures to curb fracking

Both chambers of the Maryland General Assembly separately passed measures Tuesday that mark the most aggressive action the legislature has taken to curb natural gas extraction in the state.

The Maryland House of Delegates passed a three-year ban on fracking and the Senate approved tough new legal standards for drillers. Each bill must still clear the other chamber, but the actions signaled the legislature was willing to go further than it has before to limit natural gas drilling.

“If we get this wrong, it is unfixable,” Democrat Del. Dereck Davis told his colleagues during the House debate.

BLM Has Begun Work on State Variances From Requirements of Federal Fracking Rule

By the time new federal regulations on hydraulic fracturing go into effect June 24, the Bureau of Land Management intends to have identified the regulatory variances that will be allowed in some states, BLM Director Neil Kornze said March 24.

Kornze told Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) during a House Natural Resources subcommittee hearing that he has begun the work of comparing elements of the new federal rule with Wyoming regulations to determine the regulations that will merit a variance for the state.

Mexico Begins Foray Into Fracking Rules With Focus on Guidelines to Protect Water

Mexico’s Environmental Ministry issued recommendations for the regulation of hydraulic fracturing, focusing on drinking-water protection as the country inches closer to allowing the unconventional drilling method for natural gas so popular and controversial north of the border.

While non-binding, the recommendations mark the first fracking-related guidelines in Mexico.

NRDC to help county leaders craft anti-fracking ordinance

It’s not often government officials let environmental activists help craft local law, but Jackson County’s commissioners are doing just that.

During a March 17 meeting, county elected leaders instructed the planning board to review and make changes to the local industrial development ordinance – particularly in regard to fracking – relying on the Natural Resources Defense Council’s expertise and guidance.

In New York state, fracking ban fuels secession talk

From this village of dairy farms and friendly diners, Carolyn Price can see across the border into Pennsylvania, and it is a bittersweet view. The rolling hills a few miles away are as green as the ones here, and the Susquehanna River is icy and beautiful on both sides of the state line as it meanders toward the Atlantic.

Price sees something else, though: towns brimming with money extracted from the gas-rich Marcellus Shale, where the high-pressure drilling method known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has spurred an economic boom.

Fire chiefs demand oil train disaster plans from BNSF Railroad

The Washington Fire Chiefs, in a pointed letter, have asked the BNSF Railroad to turn over “Worst Case Scenarios” for an oil train accident as well as “Comprehensive Emergency Response Plans” for high hazard flammable trains.

“What is the potential impact of a crude oil disaster in Washington communities?” the chiefs want to know.

Senate Dems seek stronger oil train safety rules

Senate Democrats have proposed a bill to set stronger safety rules for trains carrying oil, including regulating the content of the oil itself.

Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) said the most critical problem with the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) ongoing regulatory effort on oil trains is that it does not confront the problem of the volatility of oil from North Dakota’s Bakken region.

Funds for safety went to utility execs’ pay instead, PUC president says

Money collected from ratepayers and earmarked for pipeline safety was instead spent on executive pay raises by the state’s largest utility, Pacific Gas & Electric Co., in the months before a deadly pipeline explosion in 2010, lawmakers were told Wednesday.

“In some cases, the utility did divert dollars we approved for safety purposes for executive compensation,” the new president of the Public Utilities Commission complained to members of the state Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee at an oversight hearing.

Environmentalists ask Chicago mayor to investigate BP oil spill

Environmental activists delivered a letter to Mayor Rahm Emanuel Wednesday demanding a public report and investigation into at least 1,600 gallons of heavy crude oil spilled into Lake Michigan last year from BP’s Whiting refinery.

The volunteer groups Tar Sands Free Midwest and Citizens Act to Protect Our Water argue in their letter that immediately after the spill, regional Environmental Protection Agency officials and the U.S. Coast Guard ily denied that the spill included heavy crude oil, which the groups say is particularly hazardous. They also claim that local government officials have done nothing to investigate the spill or to penalize BP since last year.

After Exxon deal, lawmaker wants closer look at pollution suits

A state lawmaker wants a full accounting of lawsuits against polluters in the wake of a controversial settlement with Exxon Mobil over contamination at its facilities in New Jersey.

State Assemblyman John McKeon (D-Essex) today asked the state Attorney General’s office and Department of Environmental Protection for a list of all environmental complaints filed since 2004, the year New Jersey sued Exxon for contaminating two sites in Union and Hudson counties.

Prospects minimal to recover more oil from Yellowstone spill

State and federal regulators say the response to a 30,000-gallon oil spill into Montana’s Yellowstone River is shifting from emergency crude recovery to long-term monitoring and remediation.

Paul Peronard with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Wednesday that about 2,500 gallons of oil were recovered. That’s just over 8 percent of the amount spilled.

Oil spill in southwestern Manitoba

About 30,000 litres of crude oil hit the ground Monday after surface equipment malfunctioned near the village of Cromer in southwestern Manitoba, according to oil company Corex Resources.

Rob Crawford, environment health and safety manager at Corex, said crews are on-site working through tough conditions to ensure the oil is contained.

Little Mill Creek oil spill investigated

Environmental crews are investigating an oil spill in Little Mill Creek south of Elsmere.

The oil filtered into the creek from a storm drain, said Matthew Higgins, a state environmental scientist.

The creek drains a watershed that stretches to Greenville, eventually winding through Canby Park and paralleling an industrial park off Del. 4 on Germay Drive before emptying into the Christina River.

BLM confirms True Oil trespassing at time of spill

The pipeline that leaked thousands of gallons of crude oil last spring did not have a permit to operate on Bureau of Land Management land, according to the federal agency. The spill occurred about 44 miles southeast of Buffalo.

Although the permit had expired, the BLM has not confirmed whether a fine was levied against Belle Fourche Pipeline Co., the owner of the pipeline.

Existing pipelines offer reasons to be cautious

I’ve seen plenty of “Gas Pipeline” markers during the course of this walk. Monday, I saw my first “Oil Pipeline” marker — on the front lawn of a well-kept farm near Cambridge.

I wondered about that as I knocked on the door. I was greeted by Kenneth Larkin, and after introducing myself said, “I notice you’ve already got a pipeline running across your property.”

“No,” said Larkin. “I’ve got five! One carries propane. Two that used to transport LP gas now run fiber optic. The fourth one, the one marked ‘Oil Pipeline,’ doesn’t really carry oil. It carries distillates — gasoline, diesel, aviation fuel, kerosene — and they’re all running through the same pipe with a slug of water in between.”

Freedom Industries Gives Update on Cleanup Amidst Bankruptcy Proceedings, Looming Deadlines

Freedom Industries hosted a public meeting Tuesday night in a small room in the Charleston Civic Center to provide updates on the remediation of the site of the spill. Last January a coal-scrubbing chemical leaked from a 40,000 gallon storage tank next to the Elk River contaminated the drinking water of 300,000 West Virginians.

Freedom pleaded guilty to three federal pollution charges this week and some of its former employees have recently done the same. Former Freedom president Gary Southern and ex-part-owner and past president Dennis Farrell await trial for their own set of charges. Amidst it all, the company continues to roll through bankruptcy proceedings. But, Freedom’s deadline to enter into a Voluntary Remediation Agreement with the state Department of Environmental Protection looms as cleanup of the site continues.

Seattle leaders urge feds to halt Arctic oil drilling

Seattle city leaders are fighting to keep Arctic oil drilling equipment out of the Puget Sound as the Shell Oil Company works on a deal to store the equipment with the Port of Seattle near the mouth of the Duwamish River.

One of the chief concerns from Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and city council members is what they describe as an eyesore. Oil rigs soaring up to 40 stories could be seen along the Seattle waterfront by April, according to city officials.

Canadians watch U.S. Arctic drilling review closely

The U.S. government is expected to issue its decision soon on an environmental review of Shell’s proposed Arctic drilling plans.

The company wants to drill for oil in the Chukchi Sea and eventually in the American side of the Beaufort Sea. An arm of the U.S. Department of the Interior says there’s a 75 per cent chance of a spill in Arctic waters, but the government is expected to approve the plan which could see Shell drilling as soon as this summer.

That’s not sitting well with environmentalists.

As Shell Looks To Drill In Arctic, Environmentalists Rally To Remember Historic Arctic Oil Spill

Activists and representatives from five environmental organizations held a rally outside of the White House Tuesday on the 26th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history. In addition to commemorating the spill, those at the rally urged President Obama to keep the Arctic off-limits from drilling, even as the Department of the Interior is expected to allow Shell to go forward with plans for drilling in the Chukchi Sea this summer.

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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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