Environmental Must-Reads – March 31, 2014


Law May Force Drilling on Balking Landowners

An energy company is dusting off an old, unused state law that can force property owners to accept oil and gas drilling under their land, pitting neighbor against neighbor.

Houston-based Hilcorp seeks to use a 1961 Pennsylvania law to drill under the property of four holdout landowners in New Bedford, near the Ohio border an hour north of Pittsburgh. The concept, known as “forced pooling,” means that people who do not sign leases get bundled in with those who do, to make drilling more efficient and compensate all the landowners.

Powerful Photos Go Deep Inside America’s Fracking Boom

Fracking is one of the most contentious energy issues in America, pitting the promise of cheap fossil fuels and good jobs against environmental concerns in an often acrimonious debate. Six photographers banded together to bring a nuanced look to the issue through the eyes of those directly impacted by it.

The Marcellus Shale Documentary Project began in fall of 2011 and became collaborative effort by photographers Noah Addis, Nina Berman, Brian Cohen, Scott Goldsmith, Lynn Johnson and Martha Rial. The project is named for the Marcellus Formation, which stretches hundreds of miles from West Virginia through Pennsylvania into New York. The formation, deep beneath the Appalachians, holds stratified shale deposits rich in natural gas. But only recently has horizontal drilling and hydraulic-fracturing made extracting it feasible.

Texas, other states sharing information about earthquakes

Texas and three other natural gas-producing states are banding together to combat the mounting risks of earthquakes tied to the disposal of wastewater from hydraulic fracturing for natural gas.

A representative from the Texas Railroad Commission and regulators from Kansas, 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.

Fracking Boosts U.S. Oil to 10 Percent of Global Supply

The U.S. now contributes more than 10 percent of the total global crude oil supply as of the end of 2013, a result of the advances in hydraulic fracturing and drilling technology that are driving the oil and gas boom in Texas, North Dakota and other Western states, new U.S. Energy Information Administration data show.

The drilling frenzy in the West’s oil fields is mainly about one thing: “tight” crude.

Energy boom stokes population growth

America’s energy boom is fueling population growth west of the Mississippi River.

New 2013 census information released Thursday shows that 6 of the 10 fastest-growing metropolitan areas and 8 of the 10 fastest-growing counties in the country are located in or near the oil- and gas-rich fields of the Great Plains and Mountain West.

City could face legal action from oil and gas over fracking ban

Though Broomfield has resolved several court cases related to its controversial Nov. 5 election, the city anticipates legal action from the oil and gas industry after a judge in February upheld a ban on fracking.

Broomfield has faced four court cases since November, because of the way it conducted its election, in which a five-year ban on fracking passed by just 20 votes.

Marcellus Shale reaches Lancaster County with four new pipelines

It may not be on the drilling front line, but four new proposed pipelines make it clear that Lancaster County is inextricably intertwined with Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale natural gas rush.

Three of the four would snake through natural areas and woods near the Susquehanna River and that has some officials and conservation groups worried.

Judge eases ruling on Pa. anti-fracking activist

A northeastern Pennsylvania judge has loosened restrictions on an anti-fracking activist who had been barred from stepping foot on more than 300 square miles of land owned or leased by a natural gas driller.

Vera Scroggins, 63, who is known for leading bus tours of the Marcellus Shale gas field and posting videos of drilling operations online, had argued the order prevented her from traveling to her favorite grocery store, eye doctor, hospital, restaurants and other places that leased land to Cabot Oil & Gas Corp.

White House opens door to new rules to cut methane emissions

The White House on Friday opened the way to cutting emissions of methane from the oil and gas industry, saying it would study the magnitude of leaks of the powerful greenhouse gas.

The announcement seemed designed to please the international community – which is meeting in Yokohama to finalise a blockbuster climate report – as well as environmental groups suing to force the Obama administration to regulate the oil and gas industry.

Obama administration targets methane emissions

In an effort to deliver on President Obama’s pledge last summer to tackle emissions that drive climate change, the White House announced a strategy to limit releases of methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas.

The methane strategy, disclosed Friday, is the most recent in a string of climate change initiatives that the White House has unveiled at a rapid pace in recent weeks. It lays the groundwork for regulations that could affect agriculture and the oil, gas and coal industries.

Oil Fracking Debate in Nevada

The debate is heating up over whether oil fracking is safe in Nevada. Several meetings have been held in the past few weeks to educate people about it.

Fracking is a technique where a specially-blended liquid is pumped into a well thousands of feet below the earth’s surface, causing cracks in rock formations under extreme pressure.

State wants fracking lawsuits tossed

The state Attorney General’s office is trying to dismiss a pair of lawsuits that seek to force a decision on hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in New York, according to court filings.

The Binghamton-based Joint Landowners Coalition of New York and the bankruptcy trustee for Norse Energy filed separate legal challenges in recent months, arguing that Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration has unnecessarily delayed a review of hydrofracking, the much-debated method used to help extract gas from shale formations.

BP more than doubles estimate of oil spill in Lake Michigan

BP, the petroleum giant, has more than doubled its estimate of how much crude oil it spilled this week into Lake Michigan, a source of drinking water for some 7 million people in Chicago and its suburbs.

On Monday, BP reported the spill into the lake from its Whiting refinery in northwest Indiana. The U.S. Coast Guard and the federal Environmental Protection Agency have been at the site and have been involved in the cleanup.

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.

Protesters Picket BP’s Chicago Offices In Wake Of Lake Michigan Oil Spill

Demonstrators gathered on Friday to call out BP as the oil giant raised estimates of just how much oil it may have spilled into Lake Michigan after a malfunction at its refinery in Whiting.

Somewhere between 630 to 1,638 gallons of crude poured into the Lake on Monday. More than 100 rallied outside BP’s offices during the Friday rush hour and attempted to deliver an open letter demanding accountability.

Gulf well shut in after blackout

An electrical blackout at an offshore floating production facility forced it to disconnect from at least one Talos well in the Gulf of Mexico on Friday.

According to federal regulators, the Helix Producer 1, a production and offloading vessel, was pulling hydrocarbons from at least one well when power went out at 1:45 p.m. central.

Galveston Bay oil spill could have lasting effect

Authorities in charge of the cleanup from last week’s Houston Ship Channel oil spill say they’re responding to reports of oil near North Padre Island and Mustang Island, some 200 miles southwest of the original accident.

The command center for the cleanup reports Sunday that oil sightings were made earlier in the day by crews aboard flights being conducted by the Texas General Land Office and the U.S. Coast Guard.

Oil-spill sludge hits Mustang Island

Tar balls washed up in Mustang Island State Park Sunday as oil from last week’s spill in Galveston Bay continues to slide down the coast.

Lt. Tyrone Conner of the U.S. Coast Guard confirmed clean-up crews were dispatched to the popular camping and swimming spot on the barrier island near Corpus Christi, about 200 miles from the site of the March 22 spill.

One Year After Exxon’s Arkansas Spill, 8 Crucial 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?

Keeping Secrets Has Been Exxon’s Default in Ark. Oil Spill Case

Sometime before April 7, ExxonMobil will finally tell regulators and the public why its 1940s-era Pegasus oil pipeline split open in Mayflower, Ark. last March, spilling thick Canadian dilbit into a neighborhood and nearby cove.

Will Exxon just send out a statement announcing its conclusions about the cause or causes of the Pegasus spill? Or will it also make public the details and supporting evidence behind its determination? If Exxon doesn’t provide those details, will they be made available by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), which regulates most U.S. pipelines?

Escalante residents tour ‘Little Valdez’ oil spill site

The oil caking a desert wash in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument first cascaded down a steep gully, seeming to originate from under a spur road serving an outlying well in the old Upper Valley oil field.

Clambering up the gully Saturday, local outfitter Nate Waggoner tried to reconstruct how the liquid moved. He noted the telltale stains left as the oil poured over sandstone blocks and logs before hitting Little Valley Wash. The spill now smothers a 1.5-mile stretch of the wash’s sandy bed under a crumbly, squishy carpet of tar six inches deep.

US government: Industry hampering oil train safety

U.S. transportation officials rebuked the oil industry Friday for not giving up information regulators say they need to gauge the danger of moving crude by rail, after several accidents highlighted the explosive properties of fuel from the booming oil shale fields on the Northern Plains.

Department of Transportation officials told The Associated Press they have received only limited data on the characteristics of oil from the Bakken region of North Dakota and Montana despite requests lodged by Secretary Anthony Foxx more than two months ago.

Fuel mix being blamed for Exxon problems

ExxonMobil officials are blaming a problem with 5 million gallons of fuel shipped from its Baton Rouge terminal in mid-March on a reaction caused by mixing different blends of gasoline together, a state official said Friday.

Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry Mike Strain said he met with Exxon officials for about an hour Friday afternoon to discuss the investigation into what in the fuel is causing the intake and valve systems of vehicles to gum up.

Fukushima worker killed in accident, cleanup halted

A worker at Japan’s wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant died on Friday after being buried under gravel while digging a ditch, prompting the operator to suspend cleanup work for safety checks.

Tokyo Electric Power Co said it was the first time a laborer had died as a direct result of an accident inside the plant since the nuclear disaster in March 2011, the world’s worst since Chernobyl in 1986.

Is the joke still on Fukushima this April Fools’?

Japan’s new Basic Energy Plan sees nuclear power as an important base load energy source. But whatever “base load” means politically, the public is lulled — fooled — into a sense that, despite Fukushima, nuclear will remain a logistically viable long-term option.

Yet the realities of Japan’s nuclear power industry show keeping nuclear are likely to be far more problematic — and expensive — than the pro-nuclear lobby wants to admit. Here are the most obvious hurdles.

Fukushima informed of N-waste storage plan

The government plans to build interim storage facilities for radioactive waste in two towns in Fukushima Prefecture, instead of three as initially proposed, according to Environment Minister Nobuteru Ishihara.

The new plan calls for construction of facilities in Okuma and Futaba, dropping Naraha from the initial list, Ishihara told Fukushima Gov. Yuhei Sato during their meeting in the city of Fukushima on Thursday.

The Myth of Nuclear Safety: Fukushima Reveals That Nuclear Power Is Here to Stay

Three years after the Fukushima disaster, the Japanese government has reversed its position of abandoning nuclear power and is developing new nuclear reactors – another example that neither nuclear-caused death nor nuclear-caused destruction can deter a corrupt power structure from the pursuit of its goals.

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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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