Environmental Must-Reads – May 22, 2014


The Florida Everglades: A New Frontline for Fracking?

Pamela and Jamie Duran of Naples, Fla., had not spent much time worrying about fracking. Like most Floridians, they’d been repeatedly told it couldn’t happen there. Until it did.

Texas-based Dan A. Hughes Oil Company recently used a form of “enhanced extraction,” which fits the description of fracking, in Naples, the gateway to the Everglades. The drilling took place in the Sunniland Trend, an underground limestone formation with an oil reserve stretching from Fort Myers to Miami.

Fracking: New Monterey Shale oil estimate rocks California’s expectations

The fierce debate over “fracking” in California grew louder Wednesday with a new report that drastically reduced the estimate of oil that existing technology could extract from the state’s massive underground reserve.

The news, which cut the forecast by 96 percent, weakened hopes for an oil boom that would bring millions of jobs and billions of dollars in new tax revenue to the Golden State, home to about two-thirds of the country’s shale oil reserves. But foes of hydraulic fracturing — which uses pressurized liquid to break rock formations to mine gas or oil — were over the moon. They argued that the new estimate by U.S. Energy Information Administration scientists makes fracking in California politically unfeasible considering the potential environmental and seismic damage.

Fracking bill passes first vote in NC Senate

The North Carolina Senate took up the debate on fracking Wednesday afternoon in an intense session that underscored the emotion in the state about the issue.

Late Wednesday afternoon, the Senate passed the bill on its first vote, 33-13. A final Senate vote may come Thursday. If the bill passes the second vote, it will head to the House.

N.C. bill could pressure cities to raise taxes or cut spending

A bill tentatively approved Tuesday by the N.C. House could pressure city officials across the state to raise taxes or cut services, according to the director of the League of Municipalities.

His comments came after the House tentatively passed a far-ranging, 56-page tax bill. Among other things, it would replace the privilege license tax cities collect from businesses and cap it at $100.

Fracking: Many in NC don’t control rights to gas under their land

Mike Tilley wants to plant a vineyard and offer wine-tasting tours on his 100 acres north of Sanford. But he wonders whether tourists would appreciate seeing a 120-foot drilling rig during a visit, or sitting in traffic among gas workers’ trucks.

“I kind of wish the fracking issue would just go away, but I don’t think it’s going to,” he said.

Pelham is first community in state to ban disposal of hydraulic fracking waste

Chances are, the gas industry will not be fracking anywhere nearby because the area doesn’t have viable geology for the practice, but residents here were concerned about the process’s byproduct.

They were worried the industry could seek to dispose of the waste from the practice, said Michael Hussin, a member of Neighbor to Neighbor.

Drilling and Water Interests Clash on Disposal Wells

In the heart of Texas’ mineral-rich Eagle Ford Shale, freshwater isn’t the only precious resource for both oil companies and local communities. Brackish groundwater aquifers are also becoming increasingly valuable — as potential drinking water supplies, and also as locations for disposing wastewater from drilling and hydraulic fracturing.

The tug-of-war between the two interests could come to a head Thursday. That’s when Marathon Oil Company — backed by its industry peers — will argue in front of the Railroad Commission of Texas that groundwater conservation districts should not be allowed to challenge disposal well permits.

SB County Voters One Step Closer to Fracking Decision

Santa Barbara County voters are one step closer to deciding the fate of a grassroots initiative to ban so-called “high intensity” oil and gas production, known as fracking, in the county.

County Supervisors listened to passionate public comment in favor and against the proposed ban late Tuesday afternoon.

Santa Cruz, Calif., bans fracking

Santa Cruz on Tuesday became the first California county to ban fracking, the latest in a string of moves by local governments in the state to take a stand against the controversial oil and gas producing method.

Although San Cruz County does not have any oil or gas production, advocates said momentum for a ban took shape after reports surfaced saying that oil companies were exploring the possibly of fracking in neighboring San Benito county. Also, scenic Santa Cruz was the epicenter of the 6.9 magnitude Loma Prieta earthquake that killed more than 60 people in 1989.

Texas towns consider deep makeovers to prepare for inevitable oil field bust

Crumbling streets, stark storefronts and disappearing sidewalks are the hallmarks of many rural communities in the Eagle Ford Shale.

No more, if designs laid out in a series of vision plans are brought to fruition.

BP asks appeals court to keep blocking payouts to businesses

BP asked a federal appeals court late Wednesday not to issue a mandate that would restart payments to businesses affected by the Gulf oil spill.

BP’s motion followed its promise earlier the same day to take to the Supreme Court a months-long legal dispute over who gets compensated for economic damages related to the 2010 disaster. The company asked the appeals court to keep the order preventing business payouts in place until the high court has rendered its own judgment.

BP turns to U.S. Supreme Court in fight over oil spill settlement

A federal appeals court ruling this week in the battle over Gulf of Mexico oil spill settlement payments is “erroneous” and could prevent companies from agreeing to large-scale settlements in the future, oil giant BP said Wednesday (May 21).

The company issued a statement two days after the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to review a ruling that businesses claiming damages don’t have to prove direct harm from the 2010 oil spill under the terms of the massive settlement. The company said it will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn that ruling.

BP to ask Supreme Court to review spill settlement

British oil giant BP plans to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to require that businesses prove the Gulf of Mexico oil spill caused them financial losses before they can collect money from a multibillion-dollar settlement of private claims resulting from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.

The class-action settlement, preliminarily approved by U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in May 2012, sought to avoid piecemeal litigation by resolving hundreds of thousands of claims for economic damages from what is generally considered the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.

On the gulf oil spill, BP moves to prolong the courtroom agony

Running true to form, BP announced today that it will continue its effort to undermine a legal settlement the company itself helped craft by taking its campaign to the Supreme Court.

To be precise, BP will appeal rulings from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issued Monday. The appeals court held that BP had reached its settlement of damage claims stemming from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion fair and square, and had no grounds to back out.

Hundreds of gallons of oil spill into Grand River, close parts of the river

About 800 gallons of motor oil and hydraulic fluid have been cleaned from the Grand River in Jackson since Sunday, May 18.

Federal, state and local officials expect more oil to be pulled from the river in the coming days. And the Grand River has been closed to recreational use from the Lions Park at Blackstone Street to Maple Grove.

U.S. Agency Will Assess Dangers of Tar Sands Oil Spills

The federal government said Tuesday it will study a critical question in the battle over oil pipelines carrying Canadian diluted bitumen: Are spills involving dilbit more dangerous to people and the environment than leaks of lighter traditional oil?

In recent years, dilbit spills in Michigan, Arkansas and elsewhere have provided convincing evidence on the subject, but researchers are still working on definitive scientific studies that would translate those examples into broader conclusions about the risks of dilbit.

Opposition Growing Against Proposed N.Y.-N.J. Oil Pipeline

A battle is brewing in New Jersey as plans to build an oil pipeline right through the suburbs moves forward.

As CBS 2?s Tracee Carrasco reported, opposition is picking up steam as residents learn more about the proposed 178-mile oil pipeline.

Judge says tribal treaties don’t apply to crude oil pipelines

An administrative law judge has rejected claims that 19th century treaties give American Indians a say in choosing a route for a new crude oil pipeline across northern Minnesota.

Honor the Earth, an environmental group led by American Indian activist Winona LaDuke, favors a different route for Enbridge Energy’s proposed $2.6 billion Sandpiper pipeline that would carry North Dakota crude oil across northern Minnesota to Superior, Wis.

TransCanada Considers Keystone XL Pipeline Alternative, Oil By Rail

TransCanada Corp is in talks with customers about shipping Canadian crude to the United States by rail as an alternative route as its Keystone XL pipeline project that has been mired in political delays, Chief Executive Russ Girling said on Wednesday.

“We are absolutely considering a rail option,” Girling told Reuters on the sidelines of a conference in New York. “Our customers have needed to wait for several years, so we’re in discussions now with them over the rail option.”

Canada moves to put tougher limits on dangerous oil trains

In Lynchburg, Virginia, on April 30, a train carrying crude oil derailed, and some of the rail cars exploded into a ball of fire, and then fell into the James River.

This was not an isolated incident.

A number of explosive train derailments, including the tragedy in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, which killed 44 people, have raised the alarm about the safety of shipping oil by rail.

30 Environmental Groups Urge Hillary Clinton to Take a Stand Against Keystone XL

A letter signed by 30 groups asks a vital question of a potential 2016 presidential candidate.

“Secretary Clinton, will you stand with us against Keystone XL?”

That’s what Friends of the Earth, 350.org, Greenpeace, Moms Clean Air Force and more asked in a letter sent to Hillary Clinton Wednesday. The groups tell the former first lady and U.S. senator that building Keystone would be the equivalent of building 46 new coal-fired power plants.

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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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