Environmental Must-Reads – March 27, 2014


Harmful Air Pollutants Build Up Near Oil And Gas Fields

Dangerously high concentrations of air pollutants are threatening an unexpected place—rural Utah. During wintertime periods when air in the atmosphere tends to stagnate, a research team has found that volatile organic compounds (VOCs) released from oil and gas wells in Utah’s Uintah Basin reach levels exceeding those in U.S. cities (Environ. Sci. Technol. 2014, DOI: 10.1021/es405046r). The pollutants include benzene, a carcinogen, and compounds that are precursors of ozone, which can cause respiratory problems.

Wyden’s replacement as chair of Senate Energy Committee goes whole hog on increasing LNG exports

U.S. Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., is wasting no time turning her new position as Chair of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources into a soapbox for increased natural gas drilling and exports.

In her first set of hearings since taking over leadership of the committee from Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Landrieu contended that “increasing exports of liquefied natural gas will create thousands of high-paying jobs and support U.S. allies abroad.”

Gas industry rejects US expert warning on fugitive emissions

Rick Wilkinson from the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association says US research conducted three years ago isn’t relevant to Australia.

A US professor from Cornell University, well known for his expertise on fracking, is calling on Australia to abandon coal seam and shale gas production and focus on alternative energy.

Permian Basin: America’s newest fracking boom where there’s not much water

In the early 1980s, it wasn’t so uncommon for a visitor to Midland, Texas, to saunter off his private jet and into a Rolls Royce dealership. Eight Midland oil barons made it onto Forbes’ list of the 400 wealthiest Americans, “an amazing statistic considering that the city’s population was only 70,000,” notes Texas Monthly writer Skip Hollandsworth.

It was the height of the oil boom in the Permian Basin, a geologic formation that underlies southeastern New Mexico and West Texas. The Permian was a place where newly drilled oil wells spurted into the sky, producing 600 or more barrels of oil a day. But by 1983, the 10-year energy crisis had ended, Saudi Arabia amped up production and the price of oil dropped. West Texas emptied out, and since then, oil production in the Permian has sputtered.

Fracking’s Earthquake Risks Push States to Collaborate

Several U.S. states are banding together to combat the mounting risks of earthquakes tied to the disposal of wastewater from hydraulic fracturing for natural gas.

Regulators from Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma and Ohio met for the first time this month in Oklahoma City to exchange information on the man-made earthquakes and help states toughen their standards.

Spain’s oil deposits and fracking sites trigger energy gold rush

Spain is already the world’s largest olive oil producer but now it’s looking to a very different kind of oil to pull it out of economic decline: petroleum.

The discovery of two significant offshore deposits, and prospects for fracking in many areas, have triggered a black-gold rush, with demand for exploration permits up 35% since 2012.

Activists call for Massachusetts ban on fracking

Environmental advocates are planning to rally at the Statehouse to urge lawmakers to pass a ban on the natural gas drilling technique called hydraulic fracturing or fracking.

The group Environment Massachusetts said they’re planning to release a collection of personal stories from individuals affected by fracking across the country during the Wednesday event near the main entrance to the Statehouse.

Public Trusts: Proposed fracking under Deer Lakes Park could run afoul of state constitution

In the 1980s, when John Dernbach was a lawyer and special assistant for Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Resources, the agency’s offices featured posters trumpeting the Commonwealth’s Environmental Rights Amendment. The 1972 addition to the state’s constitution guaranteed a right to clean air and pure water. “Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all people, including generations yet to come,” reads Article 1, Section 27. And the trustee of these resources, it adds, is the Commonwealth itself.

Seacoast Residents Fight Proposal To Ship Propane By Rail

A group of residents from towns along New Hamsphire’s Seacoast are fighting a proposal to bring propane through town by rail.

For 36 years the Newington, NH company Sea-3 has imported propane from Algeria and other countries. Ships come into port, off-load the fuel, and Sea-3 stores it and sells it locally.

Injection well protesters plead to reduced charges

Eight protesters who last month briefly shut down an eastern Athens County injection well for oil-and-gas drilling wastes took a plea bargain in Athens County Municipal Court this morning (Monday).

The eight, whose individual cases were handled by the court en masse, had all been charged with criminal trespass, a fourth-degree misdemeanor. All agreed to plead no contest to a lower charge of disorderly conduct, a minor misdemeanor, and each received a fine of $150, with $100 of that amount suspended.

Bayou Corne sinkhole swallows six more trees

The 29-acre sinkhole in Assumption Parish swallowed six cypress trees Wednesday and had its first deep burp of gas and fluid since late August, parish officials said.

The event comes nearly two weeks to the hour after lead scientists investigating the sinkhole for state regulators said the hole seemed to be on the path to stabilizing.

This Massive Chemical Plant Is Poised to Wipe A Louisiana Town Off the Map

In 1790, a freed slave named Jim Moss found a place to settle down on a bend in the Houston River in the bayous of southwest Louisiana. Although never formally incorporated, the village of Mossville became one of the first settlements of free blacks in the South, predating the formal establishment of Calcasieu Parish by 50 years. But over the last half century, Mossville was surrounded. More than a dozen industrial plants now encircle the community of 500 residents, making it quite possibly the most polluted corner of the most polluted region in one of the most polluted states in the country. Now, a proposal to build the largest chemical plant of its kind in the Western Hemisphere would all but wipe Mossville off the map.

Save Lake Peigneur fights DNR in Iberia court

No decision was made in an Iberia courthouse Wednesday in a lawsuit filed by Save Lake Peigneur, Inc., against the Department of Natural Resource (DNR), which previously granted Atlanta Gas Lighting (AGL) a permit to dredge and install a pipeline at Lake Peigneur.

The current lawsuit disputes the previously approved permit. Save Lake Peigneur, Inc. alleges that the permit was granted without proper consideration for health and safety.

Four Years After Gulf Oil Spill, BP Is Recovering Faster Than Environment

Nearly four years after the BP Deepwater Horizon explosion dumped more than 200 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, the slate has been largely cleared for BP — the EPA ban on federal contracts has been lifted, and the company is free once again to bid on federal oil and gas leases.

But as a new study published this week makes clear, we’re only beginning to understand the spill’s devastating long-term implications for the region’s sea life.

BP refinery spills oil into Lake Michigan

A leak at a BP refinery has spilled an unknown amount of oil into Lake Michigan in Indiana, with the Coast Guard on Wednesday estimating that at least nine to 18 barrels (378 to 756 gallons) of oil were spilled.

The spill occurred Monday afternoon after a malfunction at the facility, which began processing Canadian tar sands oil less than a year ago. The amount of oil spilled is based on an initial visual estimate and may change, a U.S. Coast Guard spokesman said.

Coast Guard: BP let 9 to 18 barrels of oil in Lake Michigan

An initial assessment of a Lake Michigan oil spill shows that between nine and 18 barrels of crude oil entered the lake following a malfunction at oil giant BP’s sprawling northwestern Indiana refinery, the U.S. Coast Guard said Wednesday.

Coast Guard spokesman Chief Petty Officer Alan Haraf said the estimate comes from the Coast Guard’s initial visual assessment Tuesday of the spill scene at BP’s Whiting refinery some 20 miles southeast of downtown Chicago.

Coast Guard: BP let 9 to 18 barrels of oil in Lake Michigan

An initial assessment of a Lake Michigan oil spill shows that between nine and 18 barrels of crude oil entered the lake following a malfunction at oil giant BP’s sprawling northwestern Indiana refinery, the U.S. Coast Guard said Wednesday.

Coast Guard spokesman Chief Petty Officer Alan Haraf said the estimate comes from the Coast Guard’s initial visual assessment Tuesday of the spill scene at BP’s Whiting refinery some 20 miles southeast of downtown Chicago.

Oil Spill Threatens Galveston Bay’s Fishing Industry

Oiled birds and stranded boats have been some of the most compelling visual images of the devastation in Galveston Bay in the wake of an oil tanker collision that might have released up to 168,000 gallons of fuel oil into the Gulf of Mexico on Saturday.

But marine scientists and fishing industry officials worry that the spill poses longer-term dangers beneath the surface of the bay’s waters, which are among the most productive in the world and a key resource for a multibillion-dollar recreational and commercial fishing industry.

Weather a concern as oil spill cleanup efforts continue

The weather is a concern for cleanup crews in the Galveston Bay as they are expected to deal with choppy waters and rain while they continue removing thousands of gallons of oil from the water.

Weather conditions have already pushed the oil 12 miles and into the Gulf of Mexico.

Oil spill creates demand for workers

It’s not much of a silver lining, but some people are finding paying jobs responding to the oil spill in Galveston Bay.

As many of 800 temporary jobs became available because of the spill, said James Patterson, a business consultant with Workforce Solutions, a human resources provider for the Gulf Coast region.

Officials warn of health risks due to oil spill

Galveston County officials are warning people of possible health risks due to the oil spill.

According public health statement from the Galveston County Health District, inhaling oil vapors or the particles in a wave’s spray can cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, difficulty breathing, and eye and throat irritation.

Galveston County officials release updated map of safety zones for oil spill

Officials released an updated map Wednesday detailing the safety zones as efforts to clean up Saturday’s oil spill continues in the Galveston area.

According to the Galveston County Health District and the Texas Department of State, the Unified Command, recreational boating and fishing is still open. However, general mariners are not allowed to operate in the safety zone without permission due to portions of Galveston Bay and offshore areas experiencing floating oil.

Businesses file class action lawsuit over oil spill in Galveston Bay

Charter fishing businesses and individuals who have suffered property losses and other costs as a result of the March 22 collision near the Texas City Dike have filed a class action lawsuit in federal court against Kirby Inland Marine and Cleopatra Shipping Agency.

Hikers find unreported oil spill into Grand Staircase monument

Federal officials are investigating an apparent spill from an aging Garfield County oil field that has contaminated a wash flowing into Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.

The Bureau of Land Management’s Utah state office, which administers the monument, sent a team to examine the leak Wednesday, a day after receiving photographs from hikers who discovered oil damage over a 4-mile stretch of Little Valley Wash. The spill, which may have occurred years ago, is the second time in as many years officials have looked into oil escaping the Upper Valley oil field, operated by Citation Oil and Gas Corp.

Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Brings ‘Bad Juju’ And Pain 25 Years Later

At Ross Mullins’ home in Cordova, Alaska, you have to slam the front door extra hard to make it close. The former commercial fisherman lives in a small wood-frame house that’s in need of repair. Some of the windows are cracked and he leaves the water faucets dripping to protect uninsulated pipes from the harsh Alaskan winter.

When the Exxon Valdez oil tanker ran aground and started leaking oil 25 years ago, the disaster drastically changed the fishing industry in Prince William Sound, Alaska. Mullins has never recovered from that blow.

Exxon, PHMSA Withholding Key Documents on Pegasus Pipeline as Restart Nears

The southern leg of ExxonMobil’s idled Pegasus oil pipeline, a segment regulators say is susceptible to seam ruptures, might be restarted as early as this week. Residents along the pipeline and others, however, have no idea whether—or how—the pipeline has been made safe because the information is not publicly available.

It’s Not Just Keystone — Five Dirty Pipelines You’ve Never Heard Of

By now most people have heard of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline and the fact that, after five years of deliberation and protest, its fate still hangs in the balance (the southern portion is already built, but the northern portion that crosses the Canadian-US border awaits a permitting decision). The issue has galvanized the environmental movement, inspired dozens of high-profile demonstrations and captured media attention. But while the impacts from Keystone XL are significant, it’s not the only tar sands pipeline project in town.

Why Did ICF Int’l Withdraw From Tar Sands Pipeline Contract with the State Department?

A State Department contractor for the Keystone XL that has been under attack for alleged conflicts of interest has withdrawn from contract negotiations to review a lesser-known but still controversial tar sands pipeline: Enbridge’s Alberta Clipper.

The unusual move has led some legal and industry experts to question whether public and political pressure against the company might have played a role in the decision. “There’s no doubt it is in the back of our minds,” said David McColl, an energy analyst for Morningstar, an investment research company, who focuses on Enbridge. Federal contracts for major projects can be lucrative—potentially worth into the millions, depending on the scope and scale of the work and the agency involved—and are often the bread-and-butter of consulting firms’ business.

New Geopolitics Means Arctic Oil, Mega-projects’ BAU Could be Uphill

Western oil leaders may be worrying that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions in the Crimea will lead to a ban on international investment in the Russian Arctic, but if it does, that would be doing US companies a favor. The prospects that such mega-investments will remain profitable over 20 years looks questionable at best, even without the geopolitical risk.

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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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