Environmental Must-Reads – May 21, 2015


Judge blocks North Carolina from issuing fracking permits

A North Carolina commission tasked with issuing the state’s first permits for hydraulic fracturing must put its work on pause until a lawsuit challenging the makeup of its membership is resolved, an environmental law group said on Wednesday.

An order issued by Judge Donald Stephens of Wake County Superior Court on May 6 “effectively reinstates” a state moratorium on the method of shale gas exploration known as fracking, said the Southern Environmental Law Center in a statement.

Texas city will still enforce fracking regulations

The city of Denton, Texas, will continue enforcing regulations regarding drilling operations, but can’t predict how the courts will react, a spokeswoman said.

Denton in November became one of the first cities in the United States to pass voter-backed legislation restricting hydraulic fracturing. Texas Gov. Greg Abbot signed a bill into law this week, however, that diminishes what he said was the “heavy hand” of local regulations on oil and natural gas.

Oklahoma State Bans Oklahoma Towns From Banning Fracking

Oklahoma residents have been looking for ways to protect themselves after an alarming and unprecedented number of earthquakes—widely believed to be a direct result of oil and gas drilling operations—have rocked the state over the last year. But now, Reuters reports, state lawmakers are finalizing legislation to actually block towns and cities from enacting their own local bans or regulations on drilling activity.

Spurred by the jobs and economic rewards created by drilling, Oklahoma’s politicians have been happy to aid the energy industry in its attempts to silence critics and cover up the connection between seismic activity and the disposal of byproducts from natural gas production. But the mind-blowing 600 percent increase in tremors is becoming more and more difficult to plausibly write off as a natural occurrence.

Western states wary of enforcement role in BLM fracking rules

A second legal and bureaucratic struggle is underway over the Bureau of Land Management’s plan to regulate hydraulic fracturing on public land, as states decide whether they’ll help enforce the plan.

BLM has asked at least three oil-producing states to sign memoranda of understanding (MOUs) that would allow the states to enforce the federal rules on federal land.

EPA Proposes Zero Discharge Rule for Hydraulic Fracturing Wastewater

On April 7, 2015, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued proposed regulations which would create pretreatment standards of performance for existing and new sources of wastewater from hydraulic fracturing operations. EPA is proposing to establish a “zero discharge” effluent limitation which would continue the current industry practice of not discharging wastewater from unconventional oil and gas operations (UOG) to publicly owned treatment works (POTWs). While the proposed rule should not surprise anyone, it is worth noting some of EPA’s comments and rationale for the rule as well as some disposal options.

Lawmakers look to take Congress out of pipeline approval process

Lawmakers want to give the Department of Interior the power to approve new natural gas pipelines on National Park Service (NPS) land, but an Interior official told a House committee Wednesday that the department doesn’t want it.

Under current law, Congress needs to pass a bill allowing natural gas pipelines to pass through NPS lands, even though the Interior Department can approve other infrastructure projects on its own.

Analyze this: 5,000 pages of Dominion pipeline

Quicker than you can say Atlantic Coast Pipeline, Dominion dropped 5,400 pages of reports on the Federal Regulatory Commission’s desk Tuesday evening for the agency and public to ponder.

The reports, which are part of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline vetting process, came earlier than expected. Just last week Dominion gave FERC its responses to some 28,000 comments, including many from Augusta and Nelson County residents.

South Jersey Gas reapplying to build Pinelands pipeline

South Jersey Gas will reapply Thursday to the Pinelands Commission for permission to build a 22-mile natural gas pipeline to the B.L. England Generating Station in Upper Township, along the same route the commissioners rejected in January 2014, an executive said.

The company is filing an amendment to its 2013 private development application, contending new information will show its project meets all Pinelands standards for staff approval. Private applications do not need the vote of the full commission.

Pendleton residents speak out on gas pipeline

They’re angry and they’re worried about a gas pipeline expanding in their backyards.

It was a tough crowd of over 300 Pendleton residents who came to the Wendelville Fire Hall Wednesday evening to hear more about Empire Pipeline’s plan to dig up three miles of an existing 16 inch gas pipeline and replace with a 24 inch line, and build a 22,000 horsepower natural gas compressor off Beach Ridge Road.

Pipeline firm eyes impact on insurance plans

The planners of the Constitution Pipeline project have agreed to report to federal regulators all complaints regarding cancellations or voiding of homeowner insurance policies held by property owners along the 124-mile pathway of the controversial natural gas transmission system.

In a new filing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the pipeline company said the reports will identify how it has “mitigated the impact” of any insurance policy problems that might arise as a result of the granting of the pipeline right-of-way for installation of the underground pipe.

Riverkeeper sues feds over new oil train rules

Riverkeeper is suing the federal government, claiming new rules for oil trains leave the public and environment vulnerable to accidents or spills.

Critics say the U.S. Department of Transportation regulations for moving crude oil by rail are too weak, offer too much time for private industry to implement mandated tougher tank car safety standards like thicker shells and better brakes, and contain too many loopholes.

Local school boards in northwest Washington concerned about flammable oil trains passing by classrooms

There is growing concern at local school districts about the dangers of oil trains.  The train cars are loaded with highly flammable Bakken crude and rumble right by playgrounds and classrooms every day.

Train tracks run through the heart of downtown Mount Vernon and the local school district just passed a resolution asking lawmakers to double their efforts to make oil trains safer.

U.S. Military Concerned As Oil “Bomb Trains” Roll Dangerously Close to Nuclear Bomb Silos

The latest oil train derailment and explosion in Heimdal, North Dakota is another frightening reminder of the danger this industry poses to communities across the country. Thankfully evacuating Heimdal wasn’t that big an operation because there are only 27 residents in the town.

Which is a significantly smaller number than the 150 nuclear missiles buried in the ground under North Dakota. A recent report by Rachel Maddow reveals that the U.S. military is concerned about the proximity of the oil train tracks to those missile silos. Images like this one are why they are concerned.

Fear of oil trains: The future of railroad safety

A recent derailment in North Dakota has legislators here in the Land of 10,000 Lakes even more focused on getting our rails safe. It’s a long road ahead as lawmakers work with rail companies on a plan, but for many residents of the state, the clock is ticking.

Five to seven trains of crude oil pass through Minnesota daily, and an estimated 326,000 people live within a half mile of the tracks. One of those people is Jeanne Nelson, whose home is situated directly between the Mississippi River and the train tracks, a recipe for disaster in the case of a derailment. It’s stories like hers that have officials trying to make a plan for better safety in our state, and negotiating with the railroads that have no choice but to carry this seriously dangerous commodity.

Despite Industry Claims, Railroad Fires And Toxic Spills Are Up

Despite the terrible derailment of an Amtrak train last week and a spate of other fiery accidents involving trains carrying flammable crude oil – five so far this year – railroad industry and government officials have taken pains to reassure the public of rail transportation safety.

Railroad safety in 2014, as the Association of American Railroads has boasted in web “advertorials” and statements to news organizations, was “the safest year on record for the railroad industry.”

Study: BP Oil Spill Led to Biggest Gulf Dolphin Die-Off Recorded

A study released by the federal government Wednesday adds certainty to the conclusion that the 2010 BP oil spill led to an ongoing spike in bottlenose dolphin deaths in the Gulf of Mexico.

Lesions discovered on the lungs and adrenal glands of dead dolphins found within the footprint of the Deepwater Horizon spill are clear indications of exposure to oil products, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) researchers involved in the study.

Study Links Dolphin Deaths to Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

Lung and adrenal lesions found in dead bottlenose dolphins stranded along the Gulf of Mexico between June 2010 and December 2012 are consistent with the types of damage that marine mammals sustain from exposure to petroleum products after an oil spill, according to a new study published on Wednesday by researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The findings are the latest results from the Deepwater Horizon National Resource Damage Assessment, an ongoing investigation by NOAA into the spill, the largest offshore oil spill in United States history. Combined with previous studies by the agency, this paper provides additional support to a link between the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 and mass dolphin deaths in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi.

Transocean reaches $212 million settlement over oil spill claims

Transocean Ltd. has agreed to a nearly $212 million settlement with Gulf Coast individuals and business owners over the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, plaintiff’s lawyers said Wednesday (May 20).

Transocean was the owner of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, which sank after the April 20, 2010 blowout at BP’s Macondo well. The disaster killed 11 workers and set off the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

A series of settlements in 2010 Gulf oil spill

A committee of lawyers representing businesses and individuals claiming damages from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill announced a $211 million settlement Wednesday with Transocean Ltd., owner of the ill-fated Deepwater Horizon drilling rig.

In a separate development, oil giant BP — which leased the rig from Transocean — reached settlements resolving years of complicated spill-related litigation with Transocean, and with contractor Halliburton, which did cement work on the rig before it exploded in April 2010.

Gulf oil leak records cannot be kept secret, US judge says

A federal magistrate judge has rejected a company’s bid to preserve the confidentiality of numerous emails and reports about its failed efforts to halt a decade-old Gulf of Mexico oil leak.

The documents could be evidence in a lawsuit that environmental groups filed against Taylor Energy Co., which owned a platform that toppled during Hurricane Ivan in 2004.

Hercules sells four rigs as Gulf drilling work disappears

Hercules Offshore says it sold four shallow-water drilling rigs that it had kept stacked for six years, scraping a sixth of its Gulf of Mexico fleet amid cheap oil prices.

This month’s rig sales come after the oil slump has taken a big toll on the Houston jackup rig contractor, which has cut 40 percent of its 1,800 employees in recent months. Its balance sheet has deteriorated, as well, as it had $1.2 billion in debt and just $218 million in cash at the end of March.

Revealed: BP’s close ties with the UK government

For the oil multinational BP, it was a historic moment – the signing of a joint venture to exploit the vast oil and gas reserves of Russia’s Arctic shelf with the Russian energy giant Rosneft. The deal was worth £10bn in share swaps.

The chief executive of Rosneft, Igor Sechin – then Russian deputy prime minister, key Putin ally and one of the most forbidding characters in the world of oil – would be coming to London to seal the agreement. Rosneft is majority owned by the Russian state, and BP urgently needed a senior British government figure to mark the alliance.

State of Emergency Declared for Oil Spill Off Santa Barbara Coast

California Governor Jerry Brown on Wednesday issued an emergency proclamation for Santa Barbara County due to the effects of an oil spill near Refugio State Beach.

Oil floating off the Southern California coast after a spill from a broken oil pipe now stretches about 9 miles, an overnight expansion that was “more than we anticipated last night,” a U.S. Coast Guard captain said Wednesday.

1969 Santa Barbara oil spill changed oil and gas exploration forever

The oil spill that sent at least 21,000 gallons of crude through the waters near the Santa Barbara County coast on Tuesday brought haunting echoes of a much larger spill nearly half a century ago, one that gave birth to the modern environmental movement and forever changed the trajectory of oil and gas exploration in California.

The Santa Barbara oil spill of 1969 spewed an estimated 3-million gallons of crude oil into the ocean, creating an oil slick 35 miles long along California’s coast and killing thousands of birds, fish and sea mammals.

Wildlife, pristine beaches focus of ‘aggressive’ oil spill cleanup

Just as parents were planning what to pack in the family cooler and beach lovers in and around Santa Barbara, California, were preparing for a holiday weekend of sunning and fun, a crude oil spill has washed those plans out to sea.

Just days before the Memorial Day weekend, which typically marks the start of summer, a 24-inch pipeline ruptured along the Santa Barbara coast Tuesday, leaking the oil near Refugio State Beach, a protected state park.

Firm behind California oil spill has shaky safety record

The U.S. pipeline operator responsible for Tuesday’s rupture, which released up to 105,000 gallons of oil into the Pacific Ocean off Southern California, has a shaky safety record, reports show.

A rupture in a 24-inch pipeline operated by Plains All American Pipeline left a 4-mile trail of oil on the shores along Highway 101 near Santa Barbara, according to Coast Guard Petty Officer Andrea Anderson.

Pipeline operator in oil spill has high rate of safety infractions

Plains Pipeline, the large Texas-based company responsible for the pipe that ruptured in Santa Barbara County, has accumulated 175 safety and maintenance infractions since 2006, according to federal records.

A Times analysis of data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration shows Plains’ rate of incidents per mile of pipe is more than three times the national average. Among more than 1,700 pipeline operators listed in a database maintained by the federal agency, only four companies reported more infractions than Plains Pipeline.

Keystone XL Pipeline debate sparks ad campaign and protests

South Dakota’s Public Utilities Commission has yet to decide whether to re-certify construction of the long-delayed Keystone XL Pipeline through the state.

Now, the company behind the controversial project has launched a campaign to help draw in support.

TransCanada’s Keystone Pipeline Network Under Investigation by Federal Regulators

A month after revealing that TransCanada is under a compliance review for the Keystone 1 Pipeline, the Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) disclosed it is also investigating the operations of Keystone XL’s southern route, renamed the Gulf Coast Pipeline when the project was split in half.

The results of these investigations could play a part in President Obama’s final decision on the Keystone XL permit that TransCanada needs to complete its Keystone pipeline network. According to the State Department’s website, one of the factors the KXL presidential permit review process focuses on is compliance with relevant federal regulations.

Rising carbon emissions from oilsands a ‘unique’ challenge, federal cabinet told

Greenhouse gas emissions from increasing oilsands production will rise faster than Canada’s ability to curb them, the federal government was warned before new emissions reduction targets were announced last week.

Cabinet documents obtained by CBC News reveal the thinking behind the scenes as the cabinet members mulled over various proposals for Canada’s target to cut its greenhouse emissions by 2030.

Landowners rally against oil pipeline at Iowa Capitol

Landowners along the proposed path of a crude oil pipeline through Iowa made clear their displeasure for the project on Wednesday at the Iowa Capitol.

The landowners said they do not believe state government should be able to claim land for the project, which is the $3.8 billion, 1,134-mile brainchild of a Texas-based energy company.

BP ditched Arctic concerns for strategic deal with Russia

As 2011 dawned, BP was desperate to turn the page. For nine months, the crisis-stricken oil major had been weathering the US fallout from the Deepwater Horizon disaster, which killed 11 workers and caused the largest oil spill in history.

BP had lost almost half its value on the stock market. Questions lingered as to whether the business could recover.

Shell Wants To Drill In The Arctic, But Not If These Kayaktivists Have Anything To Say About It

On Saturday, they came by sea: hundreds of “kayaktivists” gathering around a newly-arrived, massive offshore oil drilling rig in Seattle’s Elliot Bay.

On Monday, they came by land, with an estimated 700 people blocking the road to the Port of Seattle’s Terminal 5 for about six hours.

Their goal? Disrupt access as the rig attempted to prepare for departure to Alaska in Shell’s bid to start drilling for oil in the Arctic. Do it long enough to cause a delay that shortens the already-short drilling window during the Arctic summer.

Ex-mayor sues state, TEPCO for stress caused by nuclear disaster

A former mayor who was exposed to high levels of radiation after the 2011 nuclear disaster is suing the central government and the operator of the wrecked Fukushima power plant for stress. Katsutaka Idogawa, the former mayor of Futaba in Fukushima Prefecture, filed the lawsuit on May 20 at the Tokyo District Court. He is seeking 148.5 million yen ($1.22 million) in compensation.

Tepco’s frugality rapped after 48,000 PCs found running Windows XP

Embattled Tokyo Electric Power Co. has been slammed by an independent auditing watchdog for skimping on its computer network, which still uses the Windows XP operating system.

Facing multi-billion dollar cleanup and compensation bills from the March 2011 nuclear crisis, Tepco figured it could save a few yen by delaying an upgrade.

TEPCO robot finds Fukushima No. 2 reactor pressure venting system failure

The venting system designed to release pressure inside the containment vessel of the No. 2 reactor at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant likely failed during the 2011 disaster, the operator of the facility said May 20.

The discovery was made by a robot deployed last October by Tokyo Electric Power Co. to a room in the plant where the venting pipes from the reactor pass.

Japan Takes Food Spat With South Korea to WTO

Japan brought a complaint against South Korea on Thursday at the World Trade Organization over import restrictions on Japanese food that Tokyo says violate international trade rules.

South Korea put the measures in place after the 2011 tsunami that caused the meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor. The measures ban some products and requiring additional testing and certification of Japanese food because of fears that it could be contaminated with radiation.

NRA to raise nuclear worker radiation exposure limit for emergencies

The Nuclear Regulation Authority decided Wednesday to raise the maximum radiation exposure limit for nuclear workers in emergencies to 250 millisieverts from the current 100, starting from next April.

Following the 2011 disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear complex, the maximum limit of cumulative exposure was raised to 250 millisieverts as an emergency measure for workers at the plant, but was lowered back to the previous limit of 100 in December 2011.

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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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