Environmental Must-Reads – March 27, 2013


Waterless Fracking Makes Headway in Texas, Slowly

Call it hydraulic fracturing — without the hydro.

In most hydraulic fracturing operations, several million gallons of water, together with sand and chemicals, get pumped down a hole to blast apart rock that encases oil or gas. But with water increasingly scarce and expensive around Texas, a few companies have begun fracking with propane or other alternative liquids.

“We don’t use any water,” said Eric Tudor, a Houston-based official with GasFrac, a Canadian company that fracks with propane geland butane. “Zip. None.” At a GasFrac operation in South Texas last month, a sticker on one worker’s hard hat showed a red slash through the word H2O.

Fracking vs. Democracy: State Laws Subvert Home Rule and Property Rights

One of the most fascinating and disturbing issues that comes up again and again around fracking is the multitude of exemptions and entitlements that have been handed to the industry at the expense of citizens. Exemptions from the federal drinking water law. Exemptions from citizen challenges. Exemptions from local land use standards and licenses that have protected private property and neighborhoods.

These are all troubling. But one of the most alarming is the fact that overzealous protections for the limited economic interests of oil and gas companies are prioritized over the broad property rights that Americans have enjoyed for most of the nation’s history (based in part on ideas of law, property and the public interest going back to the Magna Carta).

Albany Times Union Echoes Polls, Calls for Fracking Slow Down

We couldn’t agree more with today’s editorial in Albany’s Times Union entitled “Yes, a drilling moratorium.” And according to poll after recent poll showing a majority of New Yorkers are worried about fracking, it would seem we’re not alone.

The editorial echoes NRDC’s repeated calls for the state not to move forward before we have the science to understand what the real risks to our health are.

EPA panel to probe hydraulic fracturing

The U.S. Environmental Protection agency has formed a research advisory panel to examine the potential effects of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water.

Acting EPA Administrator Bob Perciasepe said an independent science advisory board will peer-review a draft report on hydraulic fracturing, known also as fracking.

Wastewater injection spurred biggest earthquake yet, study finds

A new study in the journal Geology is the latest to tie a string of unusual earthquakes, in this case, in central Oklahoma, to the injection of wastewater deep underground. Researchers now say that the magnitude 5.7 earthquake near Prague, Okla., on Nov. 6, 2011, may also be the largest ever linked to wastewater injection. Felt as far off as Milwaukee, more than 800 miles away, the quake—the biggest ever recorded in Oklahoma—destroyed 14 homes, buckled a federal highway and left two people injured. Small earthquakes continue to be recorded in the area. The study appeared today in the journal’s early online edition.

Legislative Proposal Aims to Re-unite Landowners with Mineral Rights

Just as landowners across the state began to realize they were sitting on top of a lucrative slice of natural gas, some got a rude awakening.

It turns out a lot of Pennsylvania landowners don’t own the natural gas, oil, or any other minerals that may sit beneath their property. Somebody else does. In some cases, that somebody else is hard to determine. In other cases, the mineral rights owner has already cashed in, and leased their subsurface rights to a gas driller, unbeknownst to the surface owner.

Dimock water problems continue after four-plus years Results of recent cases in fracking zone not yet released

More than four years after the explosion of a residential water well called attention to the problem, Pennsylvania environmental officials are still trying to solve water pollution in this small town that has become infamous for shale gas development.

Halliburton heads to Florida venue in $300M trade secrets case

Halliburton Co. (NYSE: HAL) will have to meet for arbitration in Miami to address allegations the company violated a nondisclosure agreement with Ecosphere Technologies Inc., a Florida water engineering and technology licensing company.

Ecosphere filed a demand for arbitration in February, alleging Halliburton had stolen, converted or misappropriated its trade secrets, related to Ecosphere’s treatment and recycling of water used during the hydraulic fracturing process.

Natural Gas Prices Will Skyrocket if Frack Gas is Exported

The oil and gas industry has long argued that the fracking boom sweeping America will lead to an age of plenty where gas prices remain low indefinitely, energy is cheap and jobs are created.

But the oil and gas industry does not work in geographical isolation; it is an international industry. And increasingly the U.S. is looking to export frack gas as liquified natural gas (LNG).

Coloradans Protest Sen. Bennet’s Keystone XL Vote & Gov. Hickenlooper’s Tar Sands Trip

Today in Denver, Colorado, around 100 protesters gathered for a “Don’t Frack Colorado for Tar Sands Oil” action in front of the Governor’s Mansion and then marched to Sen. Bennet’s Denver office to express disappointment with his pro-Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline vote Friday.  We dressed in black and staged “human oil spills” at both locations.

Halliburton calls BP’s sanctions request a ‘sideshow’ in Gulf spill trial

Halliburton asked a federal judge Tuesday to throw out BP’s request for sanctions in the Gulf oil spill trial in a dispute over key evidence in the case, saying the cement contractor has not acted in contempt of any court order.

“BP’s motion, which is the latest chapter in its book of finger-pointing, seeks to create a mid-trial sideshow to divert attention away from its own egregious acts and omissions that caused the explosions on and the sinking of the Deepwater Horizon,” Halliburton lawyer Don Godwin said in a response filed in federal court in New Orleans

Oil spill response group forming emergency strike team for Gulf

The Marine Well Containment Co., formed in the wake of the 2010 Gulf oil spill to tackle runaway deep-water wells, on Tuesday announced it is assembling a 100-member strike team to operate some of the specialized emergency equipment the firm is bringing online later this year.

The 100 reservists — who will be recruited and trained by Wood Group PSN — will be at the ready in case of another deep-water drilling disaster to run planned equipment for capping wells and siphoning oil to floating capture vessels.

Giant Louisiana sinkhole swallows 25 more trees

According to the Assumption Parish Police Jury website, the giant Louisiana sinkhole in Assumption Parish swallowed 25 more trees Monday night.

The slough-in happened along the southeastern side of the sinkhole. Also, a new crack, running parallel to the sinkhole edge, was observed on the Oxy 3 well pad access ramp to the sinkhole.

Pipeline petition effort unites Nebraska, Michigan critics

Landowners and advocacy organizations from Nebraska are among some 60 critics of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline calling on two federal agencies to develop safety regulations for projects that ship a product they refer to as diluted bitumen from underground deposits in Alberta.

The National Wildlife Federation is spearheading a petition filing with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration that argues the proposed contents of the Keystone pipeline would be more corrosive than crude oil and should be  regulated separately.

Keystone XL Contractor Green-Lighted BP’s Explosive Caspian Pipeline

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Almost 11 years ago in June 2002, Environmental Resources Management (ERM) Group declared the controversial 1,300 mile-long Baku–Tbilisi–Ceyhan (BTC) Pipeline environmentally and socio-economically sound, a tube which brings oil and gas produced in the Caspian Sea to the export market.

On March 1, it said the same of the proposed 1,179 mile-long TransCanada Keystone XL (KXL) Pipeline on behalf of an Obama State Department that has the final say on whether the northern segment of the KXL pipeline becomes a reality. KXL would carry diluted bitumen or “dilbit” from the Alberta tar sands down to Port Arthur, Texas, after which it will be exported to the global market.

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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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