Environmental Must-Reads – March 30, 2015


Big Oil Pressured Scientists Over Fracking Wastewater’s Link to Quakes

In November 2013, Austin Holland, Oklahoma’s state seismologist, got a request that made him nervous. It was from David Boren, president of the University of Oklahoma, which houses the Oklahoma Geological Survey where Holland works. Boren, a former U.S. senator, asked Holland to his office for coffee with Harold Hamm, the billionaire founder of Continental Resources, one of Oklahoma’s largest oil and gas operators. Boren sits on the board of Continental, and Hamm is a big donor to the university, giving $20 million in 2011 for a new diabetes center. Says Holland: “It was just a little bit intimidating.”

New Federal Rules Will Further Slow Growth of Fracking on Federal and Indian Lands

The Obama administration has unveiled the first safety mandates for fracking operations on federal and Indian lands. The new rules, announced on March 20, 2015, take effect in late June. The rules set new well integrity standards to protect groundwater, require public disclosure of fracking chemicals, and tighten storage standards.

Dan Simmons, vice president for policy at the Institute for Energy Research, says there’s no need for the new rules. “The Obama administration’s new hydraulic fracturing regulations are a solution in search of a problem,” he said. “The states already regulate hydraulic fracturing where it is occurring on federal lands. This is because the states have primacy over the regulation of groundwater.

Utah Confirms Spike in Infant Deaths in Oil and Gas Boomtown After Midwife Sounds Alarm

Donna Young was right. In 2013, more infants died in Vernal, Utah, than was normal for the area.

Last year, Young, who has been delivering babies as a midwife for nearly two decades, noticed several fresh graves for infants in the cemetery in her tiny city. She sensed that something wasn’t right. She didn’t have access to official death records, so she started combing through obituaries online.

Nebraska farmer silences oil and gas committee with invitation to drink water tainted by fracking

Appearing before a Nebraska Oil & Gas Conservation committee hearing, a local farmer received nothing but silence from the pro-fracking members of the board after he invited them to drink glasses of water tainted by fracking.

In the video, uploaded to YouTube by BoldNebraska, Nebraskan James Osborne used his 3 minutes before the committee to visually explain what fracking waste can do to the water table, dramatically pouring out water containing his own “private mixture” of fracking additives.

Fracking Town’s Desperate Laid-off Workers: ‘They Don’t Tell You It’s All a Lie’

From the looks of it, the nation’s boomtown is still booming. Big rigs, cement mixers and oil tankers still clog streets built for lighter loads. The air still smells like diesel fuel and looks like a dust bowl— all that traffic — and natural gas flares, wasted byproducts of the oil wells, still glare out at the night sky like bonfires.

Not to mention that Walmart, still the main game in town, can’t seem to get a handle on its very long lines and half­ empty shelves.

Why on Earth Did the Feds Approve a High-Pressure Gas Pipeline Near a Nuke Plant?

A gas explosion leveled two buildings in New York’s East Village this past week, with two neighboring structures damaged, one still at risk for collapse, and 22 people injured, four of them severely. The fire raged from early afternoon into the next morning with more than 250 firefighters responding. Just over a year ago, a gas explosion leveled two buildings in Harlem, killing eight people. The National Transportation Safety Board has not yet released its conclusions as to what caused the Harlem fire.

While fires, explosions, plane crashes and others disasters are considered newsworthy, drawing people and the media to the scene, the quiet dramas of government policy, approval and planning that set the stage for—or can prevent—disastrous events are every bit as riveting.

Federal fracking rule pelted with lawsuits; more on the way

An anticipated cascade of litigation targeting the Obama administration’s new drilling rule gained speed yesterday as a Wyoming lawsuit became the second legal challenge on court dockets so far.

Wyoming’s suit accuses the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management of abusing its power in crafting new requirements for fracking and drilling on public and American Indian lands. The challenge joins an industry lawsuit filed minutes after the rule’s unveiling in kicking off what is likely to be a protracted legal battle over the controversial regulatory scheme.

Geothermal firm looks to recycle fracking wells

Cornwall-based Geothermal Engineering has pushed forward with plans to deliver geothermal heat from exhausted oil and gas wells drilled by fracking firm Cuadrilla.

Geothermal Engineering confirmed on Friday that it had signed a memorandum of understanding with Cuadrilla to design a system that could deliver both shale gas and renewable heat.

Fracking: New aerial research to track pollutants above western fossil fuel development zones

A recent study of satellite data showing a hotspot of potent heat-trapping methane pollution over the Four Corners region makes it clear that we’re digging an ever-deeper global warming hole by fracking every last corner of the country.

As NOAA put it, “Vast regions west of the Mississippi River are under development for oil and gas extraction … but while one focus is on what comes out of the ground, NOAA and Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences researchers and their colleagues are studying what escapes to the air—and how it is transformed in the atmosphere and affects air quality and climate.

Canada’s New Brunswick Bans Fracking

Lawmakers in New Brunswick voted on Thursday to prohibit fracking in the eastern Canadian province, committing to study the controversial method of extracting oil and gas for one year before reconsidering the ban in 2016.

The province’s Liberal-led government said it will require five conditions be met before the moratorium is lifted. These include beefed-up environmental and health regulations, a plan for waste-water disposal, consultations with aboriginal groups, a royalty structure, and the establishment of a “social license,” which is the approval by local communities and stakeholders.

Energy sector strives to cut silica exposure from fracking

Companies in the energy sector are working to get ahead of new federal rules to protect workers from inhaling crystalline silica, which is used in many industries, by improving processes and investing in new technologies.

As the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration works to finalize rules on worksite exposures to crystalline silica, opportunities to limit dust exposure are plentiful across the fracking process, experts say, as large quantities of silica sand are used as the “proppant” that holds fractures in rock formations open, allowing the oil and gas to flow out of the formation and be collected.

Union Pacific aims to be first railroad to haul liquefied natural gas

Union Pacific Railroad has applied for permission to haul liquefied natural gas, which would add another combustible cargo to a U.S. rail network already being criticized for transporting ethanol and crude oil through populated areas.

The Omaha-based railroad said the application for a permit from the Federal Railroad Administration is in response to a request for liquefied natural gas transportation from an existing customer. Union Pacific operates 32,000 miles of track in the western United States, which is home to many natural gas production and storage installations.

Montana communities gird for oil train explosions they hope never come

Lac-Mégantic means “lake where the fish gather” in the Abénaki language. It’s a large freshwater lake bordered by a charming tourist town in far eastern Quebec.

They say the blanket of oil that spread through downtown Lac-Mégantic two summers ago was like a flowing river of flame after a runaway train loaded with Bakken shale oil wrecked and exploded there.

Pipeline power play

When the Pinelands Commission holds its monthly meeting on April 10, it won’t be the same panel that deadlocked in trying to decide whether to disregard its own rules so a natural-gas pipeline could be buried within the Pinelands National Reserve.

Gov. Christie failed to get the old commission to ignore the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan, which would permit a pipeline within the forest management area only if it is “intended to primarily serve the needs of the Pinelands.” So he stacked the deck by refusing to reappoint two commission members who did not vote for the pipeline once their terms expired.

Pipeline spat intensifies

There is near-universal agreement that the Northeast has to expand its energy supply to rein in the nation’s highest costs and that cheap, abundant, relatively clean natural gas could be at least a short-term answer. But heels dig deep when it comes to those thorniest of questions: how and where?

Proposals to build or expand natural gas pipelines are met with citizen discontent. At the end of last year, a Massachusetts route selected by Texas-based Kinder Morgan generated so much venom that the company nudged it north into New Hampshire — where the venom is also flowing freely. During this winter’s town meetings, a centuries-old staple of local governance in New England, people in the nine towns on the route voted to oppose the project.

Bakken oil trains roll across Columbus

Almost 1.4 million Ohioans live within a half-mile of railroad lines where some of the most-volatile crude oil in North America rolls by each week, a Dispatch analysis has found.

Those people, about 12 percent of the state’s population, are at risk of being forced from their homes should a train hauling crude oil from the Bakken shale fields of North Dakota run off the tracks.

From Washington state to D.C., fears of oil train risks on rise

Exploding oil trains are a hot topic in the United States and Canada, spurred by a recent spate of accidents and a prediction by the U.S. Department of Transportation last year that there are many more to come – 10 a year over the next two decades.

The oil boom in North Dakota and insufficient pipeline capacity have put a record number of cars hauling crude on the tracks, each capable of carrying more than 30,000 gallons of highly combustible oil when fully loaded. For a 100-car train that’s 3 million gallons.

USM marine research vessel arrives in Gulfport, to be used in oil spill studies

A 135-foot research vessel to help study the effects of the BP oil spill and other marine science issues reached its home port Sunday, becoming the University of Southern Mississippi’s newest and largest research vessel.

The Point Sur, a $1 million investment, reached the state Port of Gulfport after a three-week voyage from Monterey, Calif. The boat was purchased from the San Jose State University Research Foundation.

Curbelo, Murphy Team Up Against Foreign Oil Spills

Two Florida congressmen teamed up this week to ensure American taxpayers aren’t on the hook when foreign oil spills move into American waters.

With other nations expanding offshore drilling operations, U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., and U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Fla., teamed up to bring out the “Foreign Spill Protection Act” on Thursday. The congressmen noted that, back in 2012, a leading Mexican official said his nation would have problems dealing with offshore oil spills while the Bahamas are currently expanding their own drilling. Cuba is also looking at offshore operations.

Barges sit idle, Louisiana workers furloughed as oil price drop hits home

Tucked away in a slip at the far east side of the Port of Iberia, a dozen Parker Drilling inland barges are lashed together, three wide and four deep.

The Parker rigs won’t be drilling for oil or gas again anytime soon.

“They laid off close to 300 — mostly floor hands, roustabouts, roughnecks, people who do the actual work,” said Craig Romero, a former state senator and oilfield salesman who now is executive director at the port.

Two Years After Exxon’s Mayflower Spill, Will Tougher Pipeline Rules Go Beyond Talk?

It’s been two years since a broken 1940s ExxonMobil pipeline flooded an Arkansas neighborhood with Canada’s heaviest oil, and the ripple effects of the spill have made it to Washington D.C., where regulators are poised to end decades of complacency by addressing the dangers of older pipelines across the country.

For the first time, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) is proposing a rule to address problematic vintage pipe and other obvious risks that were factors in the rupture of ExxonMobil’s Pegasus pipeline in Mayflower, Ark.

New $100M pipeline to haul oil from Longview to Shreveport

The owner of the Plains Atlas Terminal in Longview is teaming with a Tennessee-based company to build a $100 million pipeline to haul crude oil from Longview to refineries in Shreveport, Louisiana.

Plains All American Pipeline LP said Monday it formed a joint venture with Delek Logistics Partners LP to develop the 12-inch Caddo Pipeline, which will move 80,000 barrels of domestic crude per day to the Louisiana refineries and Delek’s refinery in El Dorado, Arkansas.

Enbridge Energy doesn’t see oil slowdown affecting Minnesota pipeline projects

Even as the U.S. oil industry slashes investment, pipeline operator Enbridge Energy isn’t paring back its record five-year, $44 billion building program that includes major projects in Minnesota, the company’s CEO Al Monaco said Friday.

Monaco said in an interview that the 50 percent drop in crude oil prices since June “is very dire” for the industry, but hasn’t changed the economics of pipelines like Enbridge’s proposed Sandpiper project to deliver North Dakota oil across northern Minnesota to a terminal and other pipelines in Superior, Wis.

Oil council: Shale won’t last, Arctic drilling needed now

The U.S. should immediately begin a push to exploit its enormous trove of oil in the Arctic waters off of Alaska, or risk a renewed reliance on imported oil in the future, an Energy Department advisory council says in a study submitted Friday.

The U.S. has drastically cut imports and transformed itself into the world’s biggest producer of oil and natural gas by tapping huge reserves in shale rock formations. But the government predicts that the shale boom won’t last much beyond the next decade.

VIMS scientists build underwater robot to help with Arctic oil spills

Major oil companies are eyeing the Arctic as a new frontier for energy resources — but extracting those resources is risky business in a region known for icy, stormy conditions.

Last month, the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) proposed the first rules for oil and gas drilling in the Arctic. Brian Salerno, head of the DOI’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), said they should help ensure the resources are developed “safely and responsibly.” Among those rules are requirements for containing and cleaning up an oil spill in a sea ice environment.

1 comment

  • Sir – I hope you will do some research please – re drilling the Atlantic. Opposition is strong and widespread. The politicians and those misinformed by them are the only ones for it.Much of the support mechanism for proponents is the Quest Report – bought and paid for by the API. It is RIFE with inaccuracies,exaggerations and outright lies. It needs to be discredited because it is the only leg the proponents have to stand on – and having you jump into the fray would be a big help!

Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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