Environmental Must-Reads – May 13, 2015


Oil Industry Asks Court to Block Rail Transport Safety Rules

The oil industry is challenging new federal rules intended to improve the safety of oil-by-train transportation, opening the first legal fight in a two-year effort to reduce the risks of moving hazardous materials on railroads.

The American Petroleum Institute, the industry’s main trade group, petitioned the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to block key provisions of the rules, which were unveiled this month by Anthony Foxx, the transportation secretary. The petition was filed on Monday.

As Crude-by-Rail 60-Day Challenge Clock Begins, API Sues, Others Consider Options

The clock is ticking for railroads, energy companies, public interest groups and others to sue the Transportation Department over its final rule governing shipment of crude oil by rail, and so far only one group has challenged the rule.

The American Petroleum Institute filed a lawsuit against the rule May 11, and several other industry and public interest groups that have expressed concerns on everything from brake to disclosure requirements said they are considering their legal and legislative options. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said that lawsuits over individual provisions wouldn’t necessarily hold up implementation of the entire rule, but an attorney told Bloomberg BNA the lawsuits could cause compliance confusion for industry.

Trucker sues fracking company after being doused in flowback water

A truck driver from West Virginia is suing Range Resources, a Texas-based natural gas company for injuries he said he incurred after being splashed with flowback water from a hydraulic fracturing operation.

The plaintiff, Russell Evans of Triadelphia, claims he suffered chemical burns, blisters and rashes on May 21, 2013, while working as a driver for Equipment Transport LLC. Evans’ suit, filed in Allegheny County Court in Pennsylvania last week, alleges that employees of Range Resources ordered him to continue working in wet clothes for hours after initially being splashed with the fracking water at Buffalo Township well site, according to The Observer-Reporter.

Virginia AG: Localities Can Use Zoning to Prohibit Fracking

A new legal opinion from Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring says local governments can restrict and even prohibit fracking through their zoning laws.

As WMRA’s Andrew Jenner reports, Greg Buppert of the Southern Environmental Law Center in Charlottesville is among those opponents of fracking who are happy with the opinion.

Fracking fight continues as promise fades

For some people here, the farm field across the road from Tim O’Regan’s factory was supposed to be this struggling town’s land of opportunity, a way to reap economic benefits from the oil fracking boom. For others, it represents a public health threat.

An international oil and gas company proposes to bring to that field a 230-acre transportation center to ship and store silica sand, a central ingredient of fracking — shorthand for the controversial hydraulic drilling process that fractures shale rock to release oil.

New rules to protect threatened bats could affect natural gas site construction

Little bats that are being decimated by a big disease in 28 states are now protected by the Endangered Species Act as a threatened species, a decision that could impact oil and gas operations.

The oil and gas industry has decried the possible effects that protecting the northern long-eared bat, effective May 4, under the act could have on their operations, while pointing out that other industries are not facing the same restrictions.

Not dead yet: ‘Big Shale’ takes downturn to ‘get better at what we do’

Most of the U.S. oil industry is reeling. Big Shale is reloading.

As the top dogs of the shale oil industry reported earnings last week, they said they will plan to mix ambition with austerity. This year they want to chop well costs 15 to 20 percent, while raising productivity in the rock. They’re already preparing game plans to raise oil output later this year, if prices justify it.

An unlikely alliance: Ranchers and environmentalists fight Texas pipeline

In late March, approximately 50 representatives from Energy Transfer, a Dallas-based energy company, stood smiling in a conference center in this small town, attempting to diffuse tensions with a community that has been largely resistant to a proposed pipeline planned for its backyard.

If completed as scheduled, the 143-mile Trans-Pecos Pipeline would transport natural gas from West Texas all the way to the U.S.-Mexico border. On the way, it would pass through the Big Bend region of Texas, a rural area beloved for its natural beauty by tourists and residents. The energy company is hoping landowners will agree to a permanent 50-foot easement along the pipeline’s route so it can serve northern Mexico; it says it will pay the owners a fair market price in return. But while some welcome the promised compensation, a vocal group of ranchers and landowners have vowed to resist the pipeline and its potential use of eminent domain to take over their land — especially because such laws may not even apply to a pipeline that would serve residents of another country.

PG&E Repairing San Carlos Pipeline Billed As Explosion Risk, Leader Wants It Shut Down

PG&E has turned off a transmission line that runs under San Carlos to make repairs to a section with unexplained dents in it. One city leader questions whether or not it’s safe to turn the line back on.

The small PG&E construction site sits tucked at the end of Tasker Lane amid towering trees and stately homes with river rock chimneys. The crew is replacing a section of Line 147 so one of its inspection robots, known as a “smart-pig”, can travel through.

Oil drilling to resume at site of BP oil spill off Louisiana coast

Deep-water drilling is set to resume near the site of the catastrophic BP PLC well blowout that killed 11 workers and caused the nation’s largest offshore oil spill five years ago off the coast of Louisiana.

A Louisiana-based oil company, LLOG Exploration Offshore LLC., plans to drill into the Macondo reservoir near BP’s ill-fated well blowout, according to federal records reviewed by The Associated Press.

Seattle Port Votes to Delay Drilling Rigs on the Way to Alaska

The Port of Seattle’s board voted Tuesday to ask that the arrival of Shell’s Arctic drilling rigs be delayed, bowing to a wave of public pressure by protesters and city officials over the company’s plans to drill this summer off the coast of Alaska and use Puget Sound as a home port.

But the vote at port headquarters, after three hours of passionate testimony, did not compel a delay or rescind the lease that was signed earlier this year allowing Shell to use a 50-acre site near downtown called Terminal 5.

Letting Shell drill in Arctic could lead to catastrophic oil spill, experts warn

Environmental groups and experts hit out at the US government on Tuesday following its announcement that the Anglo-Dutch oil giant Shell would be allowed to resume offshore exploration and drilling in the Arctic’s American waters.

Unforgiving conditions in the Arctic’s icy waters not only make the chances of a spill likely, the complete lack of infrastructure in place to deal with a potential disaster means the consequences of the move could be calamitous, environmental activists and experts say.

A Narrow Opening for Arctic Oil

The Obama administration’s conditional grant of approval to Royal Dutch Shell to drill for oil off the coast of Alaska raises obvious concerns about the damage a major spill could cause to the fragile Arctic environment. But it is hardly a surprise. Shell acquired the lease for just over $2 billion in 2008, and, absent a very good reason, the government felt obliged to approve it.

Shell will be bound by safeguards that did not exist seven years ago. Several factors — including lawsuits and vigorous lobbying by environmental groups, widespread public dismay caused by the 2010 BP oil spill, and Shell’s ineptitude in earlier trial runs — have led the government to devise rules that are likely to make this project safer than it would have been.

Here’s why Obama is approving Arctic drilling again

For a leader who has made fighting climate change a priority, President Barack Obama’s decision to approve Royal Dutch Shell’s return to oil and gas exploration off Alaska was seen by many environmentalists as a contradiction.

On Tuesday, his administration upheld a 2008 Arctic lease sale, clearing an important hurdle for Shell. The Interior Department will now consider the company’s drilling plan, which could take 30 days. But Shell, which has already spent about $6 billion exploring the Arctic, expects to return to polar waters this summer and is already moving oil rigs to Alaska.

Obama’s Arctic drilling strategy: It’s complicated

It was just in January when environmentalists were praising President Obama for setting aside nearly 10 million acres in the Arctic Ocean for protection from oil and gas development. Weeks before that, his administration announced he would not allow drilling in Alaska’s Bristol Bay, home to one of the world’s richest runs of wild salmon.

Now, after his administration on Monday announced conditional approval for Shell Alaska to drill exploratory wells in parts of the Arctic, critics were quick to argue that the decision not only conflicts with the earlier moves, but it raises doubts about the president’s often-stated commitment to increasing renewable energy and reducing the emissions that cause climate change.

Enbridge to pay $75 mln to settle 2010 oil spill -Michigan officials

Enbridge Energy and its affiliated will pay $75 million to settle a 2010 oil spill into Michigan’s Talmadge Creek and Kalamazoo River that dumped 800,000 gallons of oil, state officials said on Wednesday.

“The agreement will finalize cleanup and restoration requirements for areas affected by the spill,” that stemmed from an Enbridge owned and operated pipeline, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette and Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Director Dan Wyant said in a statement.

Nigeria: Farmers Take Shell to Court Over Oil Spill Impact in Bayelsa

Farmers impacted by the Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC, Kolo Creek oil fields spill in Otuasega, Ogbia Local Government Area of Bayelsa State, have gone to court over the April 15, 2015 spill, which polluted their farms.

According to the farmers, they were excluded from a Joint Investigation Visit to probe the impact of the spill despite their attempt to draw the attention of the team to their impacted farms.

F.B.I. Says It Broke Its Rules in Inquiry of Keystone Pipeline Opponents

The Federal Bureau of Investigation violated its own guidelines in 2013 when it investigated environmental advocates who opposed the Keystone XL pipeline, the F.B.I. acknowledged on Tuesday.

The bureau had received information about plots to damage part of the existing Keystone pipeline, which moves oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, according to federal law enforcement officials. The proposed Keystone XL pipeline would create a shortcut for a significant section of the system.

Revealed: FBI violated its own rules while spying on Keystone XL opponents

The FBI breached its own internal rules when it spied on campaigners against the Keystone XL pipeline, failing to get approval before it cultivated informants and opened files on individuals protesting against the construction of the pipeline in Texas, documents reveal.

Internal agency documents show for the first time how FBI agents have been closely monitoring anti-Keystone activists, in violation of guidelines designed to prevent the agency from becoming unduly involved in sensitive political issues.

TransCanada faces deadline pressure on Energy East proposal

TransCanada Corp. faces an imminent deadline to prevent regulators from halting the review of its Energy East pipeline.

Calgary-based TransCanada has said it would file amendments to its existing application for the $12-billion pipeline in the fourth quarter this year to reflect last month’s decision to abandon a planned marine terminal at Cacouna, Que. over potential risks to beluga whale habitat.

Tensions Ramp Up Over Proposed Energy East Pipeline in Canada

North America’s longest proposed pipeline is facing a new hurdle after a coalition of Canadian environmental groups sent a letter today slamming the project as a “fiasco” and demanding regulators quash it.

In the letter, the groups take aim at a lack of public input on TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline, the potential threats to drinking water and the Bay of Fundy, and the pipeline’s impact on climate change. Climate groups are also planning protests in Ontario and New Brunswick, so as summer approaches we’ll likely see a lot more opposition in the pipeline’s path.

Resistance to Pipeline Bigger than Keystone Thwarts Enbridge in Wisconsin

Pipeline giant Enbridge, Inc., is in a standoff with a Wisconsin zoning committee over the company’s plans to vastly increase the amount of tar sands oil pumped through one of its lines.

In an unusual move, the Dane County Zoning and Land Regulation Committee slapped additional insurance requirements on Enbridge before letting it build a new high-capacity pump station along its Line 61.

Fire Prompts Renewed Calls to Close the Indian Point Nuclear Plant

To protect marine life in the Hudson River, environmental advocates have been calling for the Indian Point nuclear power plant to shut down for several weeks each year beginning in May. This year, they got part of what they wished for — but in a way they would have preferred not to.

A fire that knocked out one of the plant’s two reactors on Saturday caused oil and fire-retardant foam to spill from it and into the Hudson, putting the reactor out of commission for several weeks. On the bright side, millions of fish and insect larvae are less likely to be sucked into the plant along with the billions of gallons of river water it uses to cool the two reactors. However, a large swath of the surface of that habitat remained coated in an oily slick on Tuesday.

Indian Point nuclear plant oil slick smelled, seen from Rockland

Walter Garschagen got strong whiffs of oil Monday morning as he stood on the Stony Point and Haverstraw shoreline, two days after an Indian Point transformer exploded and spilled oil into the Hudson River.

“I see oil slicks,” said Garschagen, who works on the river as owner of Sea Tow Central Hudson, which helps with boaters in distress. “The discoloration of oil is all over the beach here. … Where is the cleanup? The current around Indian Point and the water flow is pushing the oil downstream.”

Regulators Question Hunters Point Radiation Testing

State health regulators are questioning the radiation testing of huge areas of a former naval shipyard in the south eastern part of San Francisco, the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit has learned.

In an unprecedented move last fall, the California Department of Public Health suspended unrestricted release recommendations for nearly two dozen buildings on the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard. The buildings are currently on government-owned land that will be eventually transferred to private ownership after radiation cleanup. The recommendations act as the state’s approvals that any radiation which may have existed on a site has been cleaned up, doesn’t pose a health threat and can be turned over for redevelopment.

Cellphone safety: Where do you keep your phone?

On Tuesday, the city council of Berkeley, California, will vote on a cellphone “right to know” law that would be the first safety ordinance of its kind in the country. It would require cellphone retailers to include a city-prepared notice along with the purchase of a cellphone, informing consumers of the minimum separation distance a cellphone should be held from the body.

The Federal Communication Commission recommends keeping your phone 5 to 25 millimeters away, depending on the model, to limit radio frequency (RF) exposure to safe levels.

What Cell Phone and Tobacco Research Have in Common

For scientists concerned about radiation from gadgets like cell phones, microwaves, and Wi-Fi, the doubt cast on studies showing their harm to humans is similar to studies done on tobacco in the early 20th century.

The science showing a positive link between cancer and tobacco was deemed inconclusive and not causal enough to be taken seriously throughout the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s.

Fukushima Watch: Cesium-Absorbing Canola Project Triples in Size

A bright yellow expanse of canola flowers about 25 kilometers from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant is providing more than just a blaze of color: The flowers are also helping to remove radioactive cesium from the soil.

The flowers were planted as part of a project aimed at decontaminating land and generating power in Minamisoma, a coastal city that straddles the edge of the evacuation zone around the Fukushima plant.

Filmmakers Ash and Kamanaka discuss radiation, secrets and lives

Ian Thomas Ash and Hitomi Kamanaka are perhaps the two most widely viewed filmmakers who have produced documentaries about the effects of radioactivity in Fukushima since the March 11, 2011, disaster. Ash’s commitment to the subject arose after the multiple nuclear meltdown. Kamanaka, on the other hand, has been Japan’s designated nuclear documentarian for nearly two decades.

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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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