Environmental Must-Reads – May 29, 2014


Leaked EPA draft fracking guidance raises water contamination concerns

An internal draft Environmental Protection Agency document leaked to DeSmogBlog shows that EPA scientists and professional staff have identified numerous toxic and radioactive substances in shale gas extraction wastewaters at high enough levels to cause concern. Will the agency be allowed to do its job of aggressively protecting public health and the environment from fracking contamination, or will pro-fracking political pressure from the White House and industry get in the way?

Bill that would have sped up fracking in Illinois dies

A bill that sought to speed up the start of fracking in Illinois is dead, legislators said at a press conference this morning.

A southern Illinois legislator introduced it Friday in Springfield in an attempt to get horizontal hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” started more quickly in the state.

NC House approves fracking bill that could allow drilling permits in 2015

The North Carolina House approved a fracking bill Wednesday that allows the state to issue fracking permits 61 days after new rules for the practice are approved.

The House passed a bill approved by the Senate, and altered this week, on a 63-52 vote. The vote followed claims by Democrats that the bill was being rushed through with too little public notice and study.

No Matter How You Spell It, Fracking Stirs Controversy

Fracking was among 149 words added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Activists play up its unseemly connotations; those in the oil and gas industry downplay documented problems with gas development.

Slidell City Council adds its voice to anti-fracking chorus

The fracking issue in St. Tammany has largely been confined to the western side of the parish. Until now.

The Slidell City Council on Tuesday adopted a resolution supporting a prohibition on fracking in St. Tammany Parish. An oil company has proposed drilling for oil at a location near Mandeville using the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, method.

Lake foundation asks Corps to hold up action on permit for oil well

Add the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation to the chorus of voices urging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to deny, or at least delay, a wetlands permit for a planned oil well near Mandeville in St. Tammany Parish.

In a new report and an accompanying letter to the Corps, the foundation urges the Corps to put an indefinite hold on Helis Oil & Gas’ application for a permit to build a 10-acre drilling pad on land classified as wetlands north of Interstate 12 and east of La. 1088.

Rep. Polis debates fracking policy with COGA

Amid mounting tensions over how best to regulate oil and gas drilling in Colorado, two heavyweights on both sides of the issue joined 9NEWS for a televised debate that got heated at times.

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colorado) debated fracking policy with oil and gas industry leader Tisha Schuller for the 9NEWS political program Balance of Power, set to air Saturday at 6 p.m. on 9NEWS and again at 9:30 p.m. on channel 20.

Fracking Ban Petition Headed to Denton City Council

With the petition now verified, the future of hydraulic fracturing drilling (fracking) now heads to next Tuesday’s Denton City Council session, and then, likely to the voters.

City Intergovernmental Relations Director Lindsey Baker said an item has been placed on the June 3 city council agenda for the council to receive the citizens’ petition into record and set a public hearing on the proposed ordinance.

Texas fracking verdict puts industry on notice about toxic air emissions

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.

Shakeout threatens shale patch as frackers go for broke

The U.S. shale patch is facing a shakeout as drillers struggle to keep pace with the relentless spending needed to get oil and gas out of the ground.

Shale debt has almost doubled over the last four years while revenue has gained just 5.6 percent, according to a Bloomberg News analysis of 61 shale drillers. A dozen of those wildcatters are spending at least 10 percent of their sales on interest compared with Exxon Mobil Corp.’s 0.1 percent.

‘Time-out’ called on gas storage permit

Putting on hold a permit for leaching out a second cavern in the Jefferson Island salt dome in Iberia parish for natural gas storage gives time to study the possible problems that concern local residents, says Sen. Fred Mills, D-Parks.

The House of Representatives Wednesday gave final approval to Mills’ Senate Bill 585, which puts into law a compromise between the storage company, AGL Resources, and members of Save Lake Peigneur. The agreement says the company won’t push its permit application until Dec. 31, 2016.

Huge explosion on Japanese oil tanker

A Japanese oil tanker has exploded off the country’s south-west coast near Himeji port, leaving one of the eight people aboard missing, the country’s coast guard has said. Four others were severely injured in the accident on Thursday.

Fire gutted the middle of the Shoko Maru – the 998-tonne tanker, based in the western city of Hiroshima, was left leaning over in the water after the accident and was being doused by firefighting ships.

As brown shrimp season opens, several cited for trawling in BP oil spill closure area

Soon after the spring brown shrimp season opened Monday for inshore waters, eight fishers were cited for trawling in a 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill closure zone. The shrimpers, mainly from Jefferson Parish, were fishing in the area of Bay Jimmy in Plaquemines Parish, according to the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

Wildlife and Fisheries Enforcement Division agents cited the men on charges of violating the emergency fishing closure, which can carry up to a $750 fine and 60 days in jail if convicted.

Judge orders BP to resume spill claims payouts

A federal judge on Wednesday lifted a hold on BP’s oil spill settlement payments to businesses that say the 2010 Gulf of Mexico disaster wrecked the coastal economy and inflicted big financial losses.

Lifting the injunction potentially opens BP to hundreds of millions of dollars in additional oil spill liabilities.

BP warns of ‘staggering’ oil spill compensation costs

BP has asked the US Supreme Court to step in after federal courts in New Orleans lifted an injunction blocking the payment of business claims for economic losses under the settlement that the UK company agreed for victims of the oil spill in 2012.

The UK oil group on Wednesday filed a request for the Supreme Court to block disputed compensation awards related to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, warning that it faced “staggering” costs “far exceeding the actual injury caused by the spill” if payments were allowed to go ahead.

Sarasota Researcher Studies Health Of Dolphins Following Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

A researcher in Sarasota is helping federal officials figure out whether dolphins were affected by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Randall Wells, Director of the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program, is working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to assess the health of dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico.

Jackson Cleaning Up Grand River Oil Spill

Jackson officials tell 6 News progress is being made in the cleanup effort of Grand River in Jackson County.

It’s been a week since roughly 800 gallons of used motor oil and hydraulic fluid emptied into the river.

Officials: Oil spill in Powder River Basin won’t affect water supply

Approximately 600 barrels of crude oil were spilled last week in the Powder River Basin after a leak sprang in a line owned by Belle Fourche Pipeline. The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality issued a burn permit for the cleanup because the spill occurred on land where other cleanup methods would not have been practical.

Clark Bennett, Bureau of Land Management assistant field manager in Buffalo, confirmed the spill likely occurred May 19, and the burn was conducted Thursday and Friday.

Oil spills into Green River

Crews worked through the weekend to contain and remove oil and contaminants after a leaking oil well about 12 miles southeast of the town Green River was reported on Wednesday morning, May 21.

BLM Moab field manager Beth Ransel said that at one point, 3,000 to 4,000 gallons per hour were leaking onto BLM land in the Salt Wash field southeast of Interstate 70.

Canada Moves to Plug Oil Spill Gaps With Gateway Looming

An oil barge sailing into Chatham Sound near the Canadian port of Prince Rupert, 30 miles south of Alaska, runs aground and spills heavy oil into the Pacific Ocean.

The tide begins to move a crude slick along a migration route for killer whales. Canadian response teams struggle to deploy enough resources to contain the spill of 18,325 barrels. The U.S. Coast Guard is called in. After 16 hours, the oil has spread north.

This incident hasn’t actually occurred — it’s a scenario presented in documents obtained by Bloomberg News from the nation’s transport department under access-to-information law. Shippers in Canada are legally required to be prepared for a spill four times as large.

Keystone pipeline construction defects stir worry

Safety regulators have quietly placed two extra conditions on construction of TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL oil pipeline after learning of potentially dangerous construction defects involving the southern leg of the Canada-to-Texas project.

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 pipeline’s controversial northern segment, which is on hold pending a decision by the Obama administration.

Keystone XL Pipeline stalls in Congress

In mid-May, the U.S. Senate failed to pass a measure that could have affected the outcome of the construction of the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline.

Proponents of the expansion of the oil line that currently runs from Alberta, Canada, to Cushing and Patoka, Ill., believe the expansion – which will continue the pipeline down from Cushing through Texas to the Gulf of Mexico – will create jobs, and is as safe as, or safer than, transporting oil via the railroads. –

Canadian oil could cross Nebraska by rail if Keystone XL denied

The proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline has generated lots of controversy in Nebraska, where opponents have succeeded in delaying a decision by the federal government. But even if the pipeline is ultimately rejected, the same oil might be coming through the state anyway – by rail.

Interactive Map and Report on Oil-By-Rail, “Booming Bomb Train Industry”

A new report and website released today by Oil Change International provides a comprehensive overview of the current oil-by-rail industry in North America and it isn’t a pretty picture.

The report and interactive map of the “booming bomb train industry” capture the alarming scope of this very recent development.  As the report points out, 70 times as much oil was moved by rail in 2014 as there was in 2005. That rapid expansion is continuing, placing more North American communities at risk.

Melting Arctic opens new passages for invasive species

For the first time in roughly 2 million years, melting Arctic sea ice is connecting the north Pacific and north Atlantic oceans. The newly opened passages leave both coasts and Arctic waters vulnerable to a large wave of invasive species, biologists from the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center assert in a commentary published May 28 in Nature Climate Change.

Two new shipping routes have opened in the Arctic: the Northwest Passage through Canada, and the Northern Sea Route, a 3000-mile stretch along the coasts of Russia and Norway connecting the Barents and Bering seas. While new opportunities for tapping Arctic natural resources and interoceanic trade are high, commercial ships often inadvertently carry invasive species. Organisms from previous ports can cling to the undersides of their hulls or be pumped in the enormous tanks of ballast water inside their hulls. Now that climate change has given ships a new, shorter way to cross between oceans, the risks of new invasions are escalating.

Statoil Rig Kept Idle in Norway Arctic by Greenpeace Activists

Greenpeace activists occupied a Statoil ASA (STL) rig in Norway’s Arctic Barents Sea for a second day, preventing it from reaching the nation’s northernmost oil exploration well the protesters say may harm the environment.

Seven activists remain on board the Transocean Spitsbergen, two of them attached to the facade of the rig, which is about 90 kilometers (56 miles) away from its destination, Greenpeace’s Norway manager Truls Gulowsen said by phone. Five protesters left the rig by helicopter last night and three returned to a nearby Greenpeace ship, he said.

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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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