Environmental Must-Reads – March 4, 2015


Okla. agency linked quakes to oil in 2010, but kept mum amid industry pressure

Oklahoma’s state scientists have suspected for years that oil and gas operations in the state were causing a swarm of earthquakes, but in public they rejected such a connection.

When the Oklahoma Geological Survey (OGS) did cautiously agree with other scientists about such a link, emails obtained by EnergyWire show the state seismologist was called into meetings with his boss, University of Oklahoma President David Boren, and oil executives “concerned” about the acknowledgement.

State shuts 12 oil company wells that pumped waste into aquifers

State officials have ordered oil companies to shut 12 more wells that injected oil-field wastewater into drinkable aquifers beneath California’s drought-stricken Central Valley, regulators reported Tuesday.

The wells, used to dispose of water left over from oil production, are clustered in Kern County, the heart of the state’s petroleum industry. All have pumped water laced with oil and trace chemicals into aquifers that could be used for drinking or irrigation in the valley’s fields and orchards.

Houston County commissioners fail to pass frac sand ban

Houston County Commissioners Tuesday failed to pass a new frac sand mining ordinance after a packed public meeting that got so raucous sheriff’s deputies removed about a half dozen people for disruptive behavior.

The board, which gave preliminary approval to a ban on mining 10 days ago, was unable to agree on an outright ban, or on an ordinance that would regulate the industry. Passage of either would have required a majority of four votes. The commissioners voted 3-2 against each proposal.

One Solution for Colorado Oil & Gas Wastewater: Send it to Nebraska

A Colorado oil company’s plan to dispose of oil and gas wastewater by injecting it into a deep well in western Nebraska is drawing strong objections from residents who live near the proposed site.

Wastewater disposal is certainly not the most glamorous oilfield job, but it’s essential to keeping things running smoothly, especially in Colorado and Wyoming, where oil wells pump up significantly more water than oil.

House backs off last-minute ‘fracking’ change

A last-minute amendment that would have changed the air quality rules related to natural gas drilling caused a tussle on the House floor Tuesday, with members ultimately voting down the measure – at least for the time being.

Many lawmakers said they did not understand the measure when it first appeared Monday night. It was presented as an amendment to a bill making quick fixes for budget items dealing with Common Core and coal ash. It was offered by Rep. Mike Hager, R-Rutherford, who initially sold it as “technical” fix.

Maryland business owners, residents to rally in support legislation to prohibit fracking

Bob Orr is worried what fracking might do to Deep Creek Lake. Tiffany Blackden is scared for her son.

The two are among a growing number of concerned business owners and residents in Western Maryland, which is targeted for future natural gas drilling.

“Economically we have a golden goose in western Maryland: Deep Creek Lake,” said Orr, owner of Offlake Rental & Leasing. “It is our economy, it is our industry. People who come to Garrett County come here because of how beautiful everything is. There’s nothing beautiful about Marcellus Shale exploration.”

Latest: California fracking companies inject protected aquifers with wastewater

California oil production has slid since the mid-1980s, but one drilling byproduct has soared. In some fields, the ratio of “produced water” to oil is greater than 10 barrels to one (“Oil and water don’t mix with California agriculture,” HCN, 12/15/10). Produced “water” is actually a briny fluid often laced with contaminants including benzene, heavy metals and radiation. Most of the 130 billion gallons generated annually is pumped into underground disposal wells, or dumped into evaporation ponds. State regulation has remained spotty.

USGS: Fracking water quality data “scarce”

Researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey say there’s just not enough data to figure out the impact of fracking on water quality. The American Geophysical Union’s Water Resources Research published an article about the USGS study today.

“We mined the national water-quality databases from 1970 – 2010 and were able to assess long-term trends in only 16 percent of the watersheds with unconventional oil and gas resources,” said Zack Bowen, USGS scientist. “There are not enough data available to be able to assess potential effects of oil and gas development over large geographic areas.”

EPA’s National Study into Fracking Narrowed as Key Goals Fall by Wayside Due to Industry Pressure

In 2010, when Congress tasked the EPA with launching a national study of the risks posed by hydraulic fracturing, environmentalists were cautiously optimistic.

“At least the EPA is paying attention,” Don Young, founder of Fort Worth Citizens Against Neighborhood Drilling Operations told the Christian Science Monitor in 2010.

Ohio House bill would ease fracking in state parks

Gov. John Kasich has used the back door to keep fracking out of Ohio state parks and forests.

Now, the legislature is trying a side door to fast-track fracking on public lands.

A measure prioritized by House Republicans, who dominate the chamber, got a third hearing yesterday on its way to a likely committee vote next week.

Cheap Oil Won’t Stop Gulf of Mexico’s Resurgence

Neither low oil prices nor the worst oil spill in U.S. history seem likely to stop oil production from rising in the Gulf of Mexico.

That finding comes from data unveiled Tuesday by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, which expects the area’s production will increase to 1.5 million barrels per day this year and 1.6 million next year.

Under Law, Christie Can Use Exxon Settlement to Help Balance Budget

A debate over New Jersey’s proposed $250 million settlement of what had been an $8.9 billion pollution lawsuit against Exxon Mobil Corporation has highlighted an obscure provision of a state law that would appear to allow Gov. Chris Christie to apply most if not all of the settlement toward balancing the state budget.

The current state appropriations law, as proposed by Mr. Christie last year, says that any funds beyond the first $50 million collected in damages or other environmental recoveries shall go to the state’s general fund.

Crews Clean up Oil Spill in Port Isabel

The spill was spotted at approximately 7 a.m. today near South Point Marina. Officials said it’s believed 10 to 20 gallons of oil spilled into the water. Crews used solvents to clear the oil from the water.

Officials with the Texas General Land Office oil spill prevention response team and the Coast Guard said the spill does not pose a threat to the environment.

Colorado tightens flood-related oil spill rules

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission tightened rules for oil and gas operations in Colorado floodplains Monday.

While environmental advocates lauded the new regulations, industry representatives and Weld County Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer called them unnecessary.

Crews Work To Clean Up Milne Point Oil Spill

Clean-up crews are still working on an oil spill at Milne Point, about 25 miles northwest of Deadhorse. Milne Point is operated by Hilcorp.

Company spokesperson Lori Nelson says poor weather conditions delayed work on the spill, which was first reported Saturday morning.

“We were able to dispatch more personnel both from Anchorage on Hilcorp’s side and the regulator’s side, to get those boots on the ground to do a full evaluation of the site,” Nelson said. “We have been able to mobilize clean up and response equipment to the site and work is ongoing.”

Source of oil spill near South Padre Island remains unknown

Gallons of oil spilled at the marina giving boat owners a headache Tuesday.

When Shrimp Boat Owner Joe Martinez arrived at the marina early in the morning, he noticed an odd smell emitting from the water.

“As soon as I got here, and I got off, I was waiting to see if the fog was going to pick up,” said Joe Martinez, a shrimper. “I smelled the really bad oil and diesel.”

Canadian oil imports to U.S. Gulf rise on pipeline startups

The December startup of two major pipelines that move Canadian heavy crude to the United States helped increase U.S. Gulf Coast imports more than 12 percent from November, U.S. government data showed just days after President Barack Obama vetoed the Keystone XL pipeline.

The relatively swift uptick in Canadian oil arriving at the Gulf Coast, home to nearly half of U.S. refining capacity, follows the opening of two connecting lines that link Canada to U.S. tropical waters: Enbridge Inc’s 600,000 barrels per day (bpd) Illinois-to-Oklahoma Flanagan South pipeline, and Enterprise Products Partners’ 450,000 bpd Oklahoma-to-Texas Seaway Twin.

Hearing set on proposed pipeline

Local residents interested in a proposed petroleum pipeline that will run through 210 miles of Georgia, crossing four of the state’s major rivers, can attend a meeting Wednesday to learn more.

The Georgia Department of Transportation and Palmetto Products Pipe Line LLC are hosting the public information open house at 5 p.m. Wednesday at DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel, Savannah Airport, 50 Yvette J. Hagins Drive.

Canadian government pushing First Nations to give up land rights for oil and gas profits

The Harper government is trying to win support for its pipelines and resource agenda by pushing First Nations to sideline their aboriginal rights in exchange for business opportunities, documents reveal.

The news that Canada’s Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs is working to this end by collaborating with the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) is sparking strong criticism from grassroots Indigenous people.

Royal Dutch Shell Wants to Look for Oil in the Most Dangerous Drilling Environment in the World

Here’s a Jeopardy!-style question for you: “Eight different species of whales can be seen in these two American seas.” Unless you’re an Iñupiaq, a marine biologist, or an Arctic enthusiast like me, it’s a pretty good guess that you can’t tell me what those seas are or what those whales are either. The answer: the Chukchi Sea and the adjacent Beaufort Sea, off Arctic Alaska, and you can commonly spot bowhead, beluga, and grey whales there, while fin whales, minkes, humpbacks, killer whales, and narwhals are all venturing into these seas ever more often as the Arctic and its waters continue to warm rapidly.

The problem, however, is that the major oil company Royal Dutch Shell wants to drill in the Chukchi Sea this summer and that could, in the long term, spell doom for one of the last great, relatively untouched oceanic environments on the planet.

Environmental groups sue Port of Seattle over Shell oil fleet

A coalition of environmental groups sued the Port of Seattle on Monday to stop the lease of a terminal to Royal Dutch Shell Plc’s Arctic oil drilling fleet, arguing a proper environmental review was never conducted, court records showed.

Earthjustice, along with other groups including the Sierra Club, filed the suit in a Washington state court, alleging the drilling operation was substantially different from the terminal’s prior use, meaning an environmental review had to be done under state law.

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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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