Environmental Must-Reads – May 15, 2014


California’s Thirst Shapes Debate Over Fracking

Enemies of fracking have a new argument: drought.

Fracking a single oil well in California last year took 87 percent of the water consumed in a year by a family of four, according to the Western States Petroleum Association, an industry lobbying group. That amount — a modest one by national standards, the oil industry argues — has become an increasingly delicate topic since a drought was officially declared early this year in the state.

Fracking Across the United States

The United States is in the midst of an unprecedented oil and gas drilling rush—brought on by a controversial technology called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Along with this fracking-enabled rush have come troubling reports of poisoned drinking water, polluted air, mysterious animal deaths, industrial disasters and explosions. We call them Fraccidents.

Fracking linked to Ohio earthquakes, officials say

Scientists in Ohio are drawing a link between fracking and earthquakes in the area. Fracking, short for hydraulic fracturing, is an oil and gas drilling process that shoots a mix of water, sand and other chemicals into rock a mile or more underground, raising concerns that it could trigger activity along earthquake fault lines.

Groups seek EPA action on toxic air emissions from fracking

Seeking to close what a lawyer called “serious gaps” in regulation, 64 environmental and community groups on Tuesday petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to clamp down on toxic air emissions from oil and gas operations.

The 112-page petition, filed by the public-interest law firm Earthjustice, asks the EPA to use its authority under the Clean Air Act to develop “robust emission standards” limiting the amounts of benzene, formaldehyde and other harmful chemicals that can be released by wells and associated equipment.

Helis Oil Co. agrees to drill vertically, study results before considering fracking in St. Tammany

Helis Oil & Gas Co., whose plans to frack for oil near Mandeville led to an outpouring of citizen opposition, has agreed to a phased approach to its project, starting only with a conventional vertical well, St. Tammany Parish officials announced Tuesday. The proposal by Helis President David Kerstein calls for the company to drill vertically, analyze its data and proceed with horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, only if commercially-viable quantities of oil are present, the parish government said in a news release.

Fracking opposed by Abita Springs governing body

The Abita Springs Board of Aldermen has become the first public body in St. Tammany Parish to formally oppose a New Orleans company’s proposal to use the hydraulic fracturing technique to extract oil from underground shale near the town. The board unanimously approved a resolution supporting a prohibition on fracking in the parish.

‘Frontline Victims of Fracking’ Demand EPA Protection

The 150 million Americans routinely exposed to toxic air as a result of oil and gas drilling need better protection from their government, demanded a coalition of 64 environmental and community groups, who on Tuesday filed a petition (pdf) asking the Environmental Protection Agency to set limits on the air pollutants emitted from these wells.

The explosion of oil and gas drilling—largely due to the expansion of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” drilling techniques—is putting more and more people at risk, the petition argues, as fossil fuel extraction is now encroaching on communities across Pennsylvania and western states where shale oil and gas are found.

Fracking Regulations Weak and Scarce Despite Natural Gas Bonanza

Ohio annually processes thousands of tons of radioactive waste from hydraulic-fracturing, sending it through treatment facilities, injecting it into its old and unused gas wells and dumping it in landfills. Historically, the handling and disposal of that waste was barely regulated, with few requirements for how its potential contamination would be gauged, or how and where it could be transported and stored.

Expert: White House likely to lift oil export ban

The White House “will favor” lifting the nation’s 40-year-old ban on exporting oil, a leading energy expert said Wednesday at a symposium in San Antonio.

Amy Myers Jaffe, executive director of energy and sustainability at the University of California, Davis, said she expects the administration to lift the ban on oil exports as a way to shield itself from criticism as it delays making a decision on the Keystone pipeline.

Texas mayor appeals for fracking data after earthquakes jolt town

The state agency responsible for regulating the oil and gas industry in Texas has requested that fracking companies report data related to wastewater disposal wells daily — instead of yearly — after hundreds of earthquakes hit an area with no history of seismic activity, said the mayor of a small Texas town on Tuesday.

At least 300 small earthquakes have hit North Texas — home to the heavily drilled Barnett Shale region — since January, according to United States Geological Survey (USGS) data. Critics say the state has acted too slowly in investigating the unusual seismic activity and its possible links to fracking activities.

Unintended Consequences: Fracking and the Flow of Drugs

Fracking and the drug war are colliding in Texas.

Head north from the border city of Laredo, and the wide freeways dwindle to two-lane roadways flanked by the brush and mesquite trees that fill the vast ranch lands.

Just five years ago, perhaps a dozen vehicles per day would be traveling on the even smaller, private roads that cut directly through the big ranches here, according to the federal Border Patrol. Today, thanks to surging oil and gas production in this Eagle Ford Shale region, they can number in the hundreds.

New York Senate Democrats seek statewide ban on fracking waste

Shipping hydraulic fracturing waste products into the state for treatment or disposal would be banned under legislation introduced Tuesday by Democrats in the state Senate.

The four bills released by the minority conference Tuesday would also ban the waste from being used to melt ice off roads and bar treatment facilities and landfills from accepting the byproduct.

New Jersey Senate passes fracking waste ban

On May 12, the New Jersey Senate passed a ban on the disposal, treatment, and discharge of toxic fracking waste by a vote of 33 to 4. Now the State Assembly must vote in favor of it, as well, and there’s only a limited amount of time, as the state legislature goes on recess in late June. If approved, it lands on Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s desk.

At Least 50K Gallons of Oil Spill in Atwater Village, Oil “Knee-High”

A massive oil spill early Thursday morning has shut down an area of Atwater Village.

At least 50,000 gallons of crude oil spilled over a half-mile area after an above-ground 20-inch oil line broke around 1 a.m. Thursday near 5175 W. San Fernando Rd.

BP Agreed to Settlement Methodology, Case Closed

Last week, BP spokesperson Geoff Morrell defiantly proclaimed on 60 Minutes that “no company would ever agree to a Settlement that compensates people that were never harmed by their actions. And we most certainly did not agree to such a settlement.”

Except they did. Often. And emphatically. But that’s a different story.

Battle over lake drilling takes a break

The warring factions in the battle over oil and gas activity at Acadiana’s Lake Peigneur called for a timeout Wednesday at the State Capitol.

Senate Bill 585 went before the Louisiana House Natural Resources Committee as an instrument requiring new rules for public hearings before permits could be issued to drill, expand, convert or alter a solution-mined cavern at the lake. Now, it delays any permits from being issued before Jan. 31, 2016.

AGL, Lake Peigneur residents reach compromise on natural gas expansion project

Lake Peigneur residents and AGL Resources are on track to reaching an historic compromise through the state Legislature that could put to rest a 10-year battle to halt the expansion of natural gas storage at the Iberia Parish lake.

A bill by state Sen. Fred Mills, R-Parks, to prohibit the issuance of new permits for AGL Resources before Jan. 31, 2016 has cleared the state Senate and the House Committee on Natural Resources and Environment. It now goes to the full House for approval.

Canada Introduces New Pipeline Safety Measures

Canada introduced new measures Wednesday to strengthen pipeline safety, ahead of a decision from Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s cabinet expected next month on a proposed pipeline to ship Alberta heavy crude to the Pacific Coast.

Canada to boost pipeline safety as Northern Gateway ruling nears

Canada is increasing the liability of pipeline operators for spills and giving regulators more power to enforce safety measures.

Companies that operate major pipelines will be required to have access to C$1 billion ($919 million) in funds for the cleanup of spills. The government plans to introduce legislation that will hold operators liable for that amount even if they weren’t at fault or negligent, Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford said in a speech in Vancouver. When operators are at fault, their potential liability will be unlimited.

Big mammals v. big oil: New pipeline puts humpback whales at risk

In a deep fjord in British Columbia called the Douglas Channel, where the Kitimat River pours runs of Chinook salmon into the Pacific Ocean, fishermen see singing humpback whales fling themselves into the air.

These barnacled, 40-ton whales with long, ridged flippers were harpooned to the brink of extinction in the 1900s. Only through intense conservation efforts have they found safety in ancient migration routes. Mothers birth a single calf in tropical seas and fast for months as it nurses, before migrating thousands of miles up to the North Pacific. There, in enclaves like the Douglas Channel — a critical feeding ground — the whales nourish themselves on krill.

New US rail safety rules will not apply to all trains carrying explosive crude oil

Just as the state has revealed that crude oil shipments by rail have resumed along the state’s rail lines, Maine emergency officials say new federal rules about shipping hazardous materials such as crude by rail don’t go far enough.

For example, the new rules do not apply to trains carrying less than a million gallons of crude or other material, yet such trains can cause explosions such as the recent one in Lynchburg, Virginia.

Alberta Selling Out Endangered Caribou for Fossil Fuels

The Canadian province of Alberta on Wednesday began selling land critical to the survival of mountain caribou to the energy industry.

The auction of leases, which continues until June 25, comes the same month the iconic mammals were characterized as endangered — facing imminent extirpation or extinction—  by the federal Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.

Lac-Mégantic Residents Decry Charging of Low-Level Employees Over Deadly Disaster

Three employees of the rail company behind the infamous Lac-Mégantic train derailment and fireball explosion faced charges Tuesday of criminal negligence for the deaths of the 47 people killed. But for the residents of the small Quebec town, the fact that no executives were charged 10 months after the tragedy brought little sense of justice.

The three Montreal Maine and Atlantic Railway Ltd. employees charged were Thomas Harding, the train conductor; Jean Demaître, manager of train operations; and Richard Labrie, traffic controller.

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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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