Environmental Must-Reads – May 28, 2014


Damage Award in Texas Fracking Case Raises Stakes in Air Quality Debate

Between February 2010 and July 2011, Lisa and Bob Parr filed 13 complaints about air pollution from gas and oil operations near their ranch in Wise County, Texas. Sometimes they had trouble breathing, they told the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). They also experienced nausea, nosebleeds, ringing ears and rashes.

Other families were also alarmed. Between 2008 and 2011, the TCEQ received 77 complaints from Wise County, in the Barnett Shale drilling area in North Texas. One said the odor was so powerful that the complainant “couldn’t go outside,” according to the TCEQ report.

Are Regulators Ignoring California’s New Fracking Law?

As many as 77 different oil wells that the gas and oil industry reported were fracked in January and February had yet to show up on the website run by California’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) by May 20, 2014.

That apparently flies in the face of a new law, titled [Senate Bill Four] or SB4, which requires the state to notify residents within 60 days of any well stimulation. SB4 also was supposed to require that oil and gas companies notify neighbors about upcoming well stimulation activities.

Tammany officials hope to use zoning law to block planned oil well

Even in the face of strident protests by many residents, St. Tammany Parish officials have for more than a month insisted that the parish is largely powerless to stop a proposed “fracking” oil well in an undeveloped 960-acre tract just north of Interstate 12.

Despite their earlier arguments that state law reserves decisions on drilling to state agencies, though, it now appears that Tammany officials are hoping to use parish zoning law to block the project.

Fracking could start in May 2015

The move to open North Carolina to fracking operations has been accelerated again, this time under changes made by a House committee to a Senate bill passed last week that, opponents say, prematurely allows shale-gas exploration.

An amendment passed Tuesday by the Public Utilities and Energy Committee to the Energy Modernization Act would require that proposed fracking regulations now being drafted by the state Mining and Energy Commission be approved by the state legislature – before oil and gas companies could begin fracking, the drilling method used to extract shale gas.

Fracking bill wins approval of NC House committee

A key committee in the North Carolina House has advanced a bill that would lift the state’s moratorium on fracking for natural gas.

The House Public Utilities and Energy Committee passed the Republican-backed measure Tuesday with several Democrats in the minority voting no. The bill was amended to remove a provision directing the first drilling permits be issued in July 2015, replacing it with language allowing permits to be issued 60 days after the final regulations for the industry are approved.

Crowdfunding could help researchers expose the truth about fracking

The U.S. has proved that it’s a lot quicker about extracting natural gas from its shale deposits than about studying the effects said extraction may have on the environment and public health. But some scientists have figured out a way to get past our drill first, ask questions later strategy: appealing to the masses to crowdfund their research.

Groundbreaking Anti-Fracking Ballot Initiative Clears Key Hurdle in Colorado

The citizen-led anti-fracking battles in Colorado ratcheted up a notch May 22 when the Colorado Community Rights Network announced that Ballot Initiative #75, the Community Right Amendment (also known as “Right to Local Self-Government”), has cleared its final legal hurdle with the Colorado Supreme Court and has the go-ahead to start gathering signatures to get the measure on the November ballot.

Initiative #75 would give cities and towns the right to regulate or ban outright any for-profit enterprise that threatens the environment or the health, safety or welfare of its citizens. In addition to letting localities regulate drilling as they see fit, it would give citizens the right to ban pursuits such as hazardous waste dumps, factory farms or genetically modified crop farming within their cities’ borders.

How Washington farmers are moving to smarter water solutions

With fracking and droughts on the rise, it’s easy to find headlines bemoaning the poisoning and depletion of aquifers. This, however, is a story of redemption. Such stories, of course, must start with the problem.

The Northwest — mercifully — lacks a significant fossil fuel extraction industry, so we are spared any problems from fracking, but we certainly have our share of thirsty crops and people, and these definitely cause depletion problems in the arid lands where most of our crops are grown.

Study cites possible link between drilling, health

A scientist from the University of Missouri whose recently published research suggested a possible link between gas drilling spills and elevated levels of hormone disrupting chemicals in the gas patch areas of Garfield County is planning to return for a second phase of work in the coming months.

Dr. Susan Nagel, a professor of obstetrics, gynecology and women’s health at the University of Missouri who published a study in the March 2014 edition of the peer reviewed journal Endocrinology detailing her Garfield County findings, is launching the second phase of research with an unexpected twist: She’s crowdfunding the work through the new science fundraising website Experiment.com.

Scientists turn to crowdfunding for fracking research

A scientist from the University of Missouri who recently found elevated levels of endocrine disrupting chemicals in parts of Garfield County, Colo. where spills of wastewater from natural gas drilling occurred is now planning the second phase of her research, but with a surprising funding mechanism this time. Rather than seeking backing from government agencies or private foundations, Dr. Susan Nagel and her team are drumming up donations in the same way that many before them have started small businesses, made documentary films, or produced t-shirts adorned with images of Miley Cyrus twerking: they’re crowdfunding their research through a new website called Experiment.com.

2 northwestern Minnesota towns still without gas after pipeline rupture

Investigators were trying to determine whether frost heaves contributed to the rupture of an interstate natural gas pipeline in Warren, Minn., Marshall County Sheriff John Novacek said Tuesday.

The accident, which caused a massive fire, happened shortly after 6 a.m. Monday on the Viking Pipeline in northwestern Minnesota, cutting off natural gas service to 900 customers in Warren and Argyle. No one was injured in the accident, which happened in a farm field about a mile from the nearest house.

BP Can’t Hold Spill Payments Until Supreme Court Hears Settlement Appeal

BP Plc can’t delay writing checks for hundreds of millions of dollars in damage claims while it asks the U.S. Supreme Court to review disputed payments in its $9.2 billion accord over the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans Tuesday rejected BP’s request to extend a halt on payments to businesses that can’t directly prove they were damaged by the spill while the company seeks review by the Supreme Court.

Louisiana energy tour has political tinge

Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu is taking Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz on a tour of oil and gas infrastructure in her home state of Louisiana, with visits on Tuesday to a port supplying offshore platforms and another facility that builds them.

The sightseeing trip is the latest bid by Landrieu to highlight her support for the oil and gas industry in Louisiana, as she fights for reelection in one of this year’s closest Senate contests.

Feds writing new oil payment mandates

Financial regulators have quietly confirmed they are rewriting a rule requiring companies to disclose what they pay foreign interests in exchange for rights to harvest oil, gas and other minerals.

According to the federal government’s just-updated regulatory agenda, the Securities and Exchange Commission is set to propose new mandates in March 2015. That puts the agency on track to issue a final rule as early as the end of 2015, after accepting and responding to public comments — well after a federal district court tossed out the SEC’s first attempt in July 2013.

Environmental group rewarding up to $1,000 for information about Grand River oil spill

A Jackson area environmental group is looking to reward up to $1,000 for information leading to who is responsible for last week’s oil spill in the Grand River.

The Jackson chapter of the Sierra Club is collecting pledges for the cash reward and has collected about $600 so far, said Mark Muhich, conservation chairman of the Central Michigan Group Sierra Club. The group plans to announce the reward at the Jackson City Council’s 6:30 p.m. meeting Tuesday, May 27.

Shoddy work on Keystone pipeline spawns extra regulations

Safety regulators have quietly placed two extra conditions on construction of the Keystone XL pipeline after learning of potentially dangerous construction defects along the southern leg of the Canada-to-Texas project, which involved Tulsa-area workers.

The defects — high rates of bad welds, dented pipe and damaged pipeline coating — have been fixed. But the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration wants to make sure similar problems don’t occur during construction of the oil pipeline’s controversial northern segment, which is on hold pending a decision by the Obama administration.

Keystone XL new safety conditions don’t alter economics

Additional safety conditions imposed on the Keystone XL pipeline are not expected to hurt the economics of the project, whose price tag is already expected to soar by at least several hundred millions of dollars over earlier estimates.

“It appears to mean a couple of extra steps on the welding and is it going to make an economic difference? We don’t think so,” said Steven Paget, an analyst with FirstEnergy Capital in Calgary.

Greenpeace activists board arctic oil drilling rig

Greenpeace activists boarded an oil rig in the Norwegian Arctic on Tuesday to try to stop exploration plans in the far north.

Greenpeace, which regularly calls Statoil an ‘Arctic aggressor’, said plans to drill in the Hoop area of the Barents Sea threaten Bear Island, an uninhabited wildlife sanctuary which is home to rare species and occasionally to polar bears.

Greenpeace Blocks Two Major Oil Rigs to ‘Save the Arctic’

In the early hours of Tuesday morning, Greenpeace activists from 12 countries blocked two separate oil rigs destined for offshore drilling in the Arctic Ocean.

“The Arctic matters to us all, and protecting it demands a truly global response,” said Ben Ayliffe, a Greenpeace International campaigner. “We cannot let a reckless club of international oil companies hunt for the last drops as the ice melts away.”

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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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