Environmental Must-Reads – March 28, 2014


Fracking the USA: New Map Shows 1 Million Oil, Gas Wells

If you’re wondering where oil and gas production and hydraulic fracturing are happening near you, FracTracker has a new mapping tool that will help you find out.

Researchers at FracTracker, an independent oil and gas research group that started as a mapping project at the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Healthy Environments and Communities, analyzed oil and gas well location data for all 50 states and created a map showing where most of those wells are, including wells that have been fracked and those that haven’t.

PG&E Expects U.S. Charges for San Bruno Gas Pipeline Explosion

PG&E Corp. (PCG:US) said it expects to face criminal charges for the 2010 explosion of one of its natural gas pipelines that killed eight people in San Bruno, California.

Charges to be filed by the U.S. Attorney’s office will accuse the company of violating the federal Pipeline Safety Act, leading to the explosion and deaths, according to a statement released by PG&E yesterday. The company didn’t say when it expects the charges to be filed, and said it believes they aren’t merited.

PG&E Expects Criminal Charges Over Pipeline Explosion

PG&E Corp expects to face federal criminal charges over the 2010 natural-gas pipeline explosion that killed eight in San Bruno, Calif., the utility said Thursday.

“Given the most recent discussions with the U.S. Attorney’s Office,” PG&E said, it expects to be charged with violating the federal Pipeline Safety Act, which dates back to 1968. The alleged violations relate to the company’s past practices in operating its natural gas pipeline system, including record keeping and safety management.

No, Fracking Is Not Making the U.S. More Secure

When it rains, it pours, so they say, but pouring rain is not exactly what you want in a drought. The big storm that hit the parched American Southwest at the end of February only scratched the surface of the problem. The land is far too dry and hard-packed to absorb the deluge; instead of recharging the earth, much of the water bounced off the dirt, turning into wasted runoff and even flash floods.

These dry lands are dryer than they would otherwise be because of global warming-driven climate change. As it turns out, its not just the burning of oil, gas, and coal that’s accelerating the loss of available freshwater, but also the drilling for two of the fuels themselves. A report by Ceres, a non-profit organization that promotes sustainability, found that almost half of the wells that were dug between January 2011 and May 2013 to hydraulically fracture (or “frack”) shale rock to extract natural gas and “tight” oil were located in regions with “high or extremely high water stress,” and more than half (55 percent) were in areas experiencing droughts.

Fracking activist must be subdued, says drilling company

Vera Scroggins, you are hereby charged with conspiracy to commit free speech. How do you plead?

That seems to be the way a Susquehanna County battle over hydraulic fracturing (usually called fracking) will play out if a Houston gas-drilling company gets it way, which is usually what happens in Pennsylvania when that company is involved.

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.

FAA: Drilling deal at Pittsburgh airport won’t have significant effect on environment

Drilling for natural gas on land at Pittsburgh International Airport won’t have a significant impact on the environment, Federal Aviation Administration officials said Thursday.

“The FAA has completed its review of the Oil and Gas Drilling at Pittsburgh International Airport Environmental Assessment, (and) based on the information and analysis presented in the (assessment), the agency found that the project would not create any significant environmental impacts. As a result, the FAA issued a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI)/Record of Decision (ROD) on March 25,” an FAA spokeswoman said.

DCNR to release drilling impact report next month

A state conservation agency plans to release a voluminous report next month about its efforts to monitor the environmental impact of natural gas drilling in the state forests.

The monitoring of gas drilling will continue after the report comes out, Ellen Ferretti, secretary of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, told an advisory council Wednesday.

Pennsylvania’s top drilling trade group going grassroots

Members of the Marcellus Shale Coalition are used to walking past chanting protestors with signs decrying fracking. Now, Pennsylvania’s top gas drilling trade group is embracing the tactics of grassroots organizing with a new advocacy initiative to promote shale development.

Fracking and Retirees Drive U.S. Population Growth

Welcome to 21st-century America, in which population growth trends are driven by baby boomers packing into Florida retirement enclaves and workers chasing the fracking boom from North Dakota to Texas.

That’s the quick sketch, at least, that comes out of new population data from the U.S. Census, which track growth between July 1, 2012, and July 1, 2013. The Villages, a collection of central Florida retirement communities northwest of Orlando, topped the charts as the nation’s fastest-growing metropolitan area, with a 5.2 percent gain. That far outpaced the U.S. average of 0.7 percent growth. Midland and Odessa, in western Texas, followed at 3.3 percent each. Both cities have seen an employment boom in recent years amid new techniques to extract oil and natural gas.

Potential Crackdown on Russia Risks Also Punishing Western Oil Companies

As the United States seeks to strengthen sanctions on Moscow for its occupation of Crimea, energy experts say the powerful Russian oil industry would make a robust target. But any penalties on energy investments, technology transfers and financial transactions would most likely also punish Western oil companies like Exxon Mobil that are investing heavily in Russia.

Jindal unveils legislation to solve oil and gas legacy lawsuits

Gov. Bobby Jindal unveiled legislation Thursday that he said will finally solve a simmering problem in Louisiana.

The proposal, which will be filed for consideration in this legislative session, tackles what are known as legacy lawsuits.

La. official: Exxon’s bad fuel totals 5 million gallons

More than 5 million gallons of gasoline shipped from the ExxonMobil Baton Rouge terminal in mid-March was tainted by something that is causing the intake and valve systems of vehicles to gum up, Louisiana’s commissioner of agriculture and forestry said Thursday.

BP raises estimate of Lake Michigan oil spill

BP today more than doubled its maximum estimate of how much crude oil spilled into Lake Michigan earlier this week from its Whiting refinery in Northwest Indiana.

In a statement, the company said a malfunction in a new distillation unit forced up to 39 barrels or 1,638 gallons of oil into the lake just across the Illinois border. A day earlier, the company had estimated that 18 barrels at most had been spilled.

BP Raises Lake Michigan Oil spill Estimate; Senators Request Meeting

More oil than previously thought may have leaked into Lake Michigan this week from BP Plc’s Indiana refinery, the company said on Thursday, after two U.S. Senators requested a meeting with the British oil major.

The request from Senators Mark Kirk, a Republican and Dick Durbin, a Democrat, both from Illinois, came before BP issued its estimate that between 15 and 39 barrels of oil had spilled – more than an earlier assessment that nine to 18 barrels leaked on Monday.

Lawmakers Call For Full Accountability From BP On Lake Michigan Oil Spill

The BP refinery that spilled up to 1,638 gallons of crude oil may soon be cleaned up, but officials are calling on BP to be held accountable for its actions.

The Whiting refinery, located in northwest Indiana, spilled between 630 and 1,638 gallons of crude oil into Lake Michigan this week after a malfunction occurred at one of the refinery’s crude distillation units. So far, cleanup crews have reported “minimal” oiling of Lake Michigan’s shore, and a fisheries expert says most of the lake’s fish are in deeper water off-shore, so they were able to avoid contact with the oil. BP said in a statement Wednesday that cleanup crews had recovered “the vast majority of oil” visible on the surface of the lake and on the shoreline and manually collected oil that had reached the shore. WBEZ Chicago reported that the oil that spilled was a mixture of sweet domestic crude and heavier crude from Canada’s tar sands region, a type of oil the refinery has been upping its processing of, but BP has not confirmed this.

Investigation Far From Over In Houston Oil Spill

The barge operator that spilled nearly 170,000 gallons of tar-like oil into the Houston Ship Channel, closing one of the nation’s busiest seaports for several days, will be fined by Texas regulators regardless of the outcome of state and federal investigations.

Investigators are still trying to pinpoint the cause of last weekend’s accident involving a barge owned by Houston-based Kirby Inland Marine Corp., but Texas law considers the company carrying the oil a responsible party, said Greg Pollock, deputy director for the Texas General Land Office’s oil spill response division.

Environmentalists wary about harm to birds from Texas oil spill

Less than a week after an oil spill in the Houston Ship Channel, environmentalists say there has been limited damage to nearby bird sanctuaries, but it is to soon to know whether there will be long-term problems to wildlife.

More than 200 birds have been fouled by oil from the spill, caused by a collision involving a fuel barge and a ship on Saturday, according to Richard Gibbons, conservation director of Houston Audubon. The birds are of a variety of species.

One Year After Exxon’s Arkansas Spill, Basic Questions Still Unanswered

It’s been a year since a broken oil pipeline sent an estimated 210,000 gallons of Canadian dilbit into an Arkansas neighborhood, but there’s still a long list of unknowns about the spill.

The most critical mystery yet to be resolved for the public: What caused ExxonMobil’s Pegasus pipeline to break apart March 29 while the line was running well below its maximum approved pressure?

Special Report: A Canadian family’s ‘Plan B’ to pump tar sands oil

Keystone XL, a pipeline proposal to pump Canadian oil sands through the heart of America, has alarmed environmentalists and become one of the most contentious issues of the Obama presidency. But there is a “Plan B” to cut the United States out of the picture, and it is championed by one of Canada’s wealthiest business dynasties.

Since 2012, the billionaire Irving family has been advocating a proposal called Energy East. The 2,858-mile (4,600-km) pipeline would link trillions of dollars worth of oil in land-locked fields in the western province of Alberta to an Atlantic port in the Irvings’ eastern home province of New Brunswick, north of Maine, creating a gateway to new foreign markets for Canadian oil.

Rejecting Keystone XL is Good Politics As Well As Good Policy

As the debate surrounding the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline continues, we’re seeing an overwhelming reaction from people across the country asking Secretary Kerry and President Obama to reject this dirty, dangerous project. The State Department’s Keystone XL comment period recently came to a close, with over two million comments submitted against the pipeline.

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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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