Environmental Must-Reads – May 29, 2015


Fracking battle in Texas not over

The fight over fracking in Texas cities is continuing. Anti-fracking activists are searching for a legal strategy to challenge the constitutionality of a new state law that appears to overturn the frack ban that Denton voters passed last November.

On a second front, protesters picketed a Denton well site where hydraulic fracturing has resumed. And others are planning an anti-fracking rally on the City Hall lawn in the near future.

Vantage Energy The First Company To Resume Fracking in Denton

Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) has resumed in the City of Denton. The natural gas drilling process is once again happening after a new state law made the city’s ban illegal.

Denton passed an ordinance in November that banned fracking within city limits. Earlier this month Governor Greg Abbott signed into law a bill prohibiting local governments from adopting oil and gas drilling bans.

Pavillion: The town a fracking controversy destroyed

Tex and Dale Frazier try to stay out of the controversy that has plagued this community for the past decade. The couple opened the Lucky Duck, a diner, in October. In a town of roughly 230 people, they can scarcely afford to alienate any neighbors.

“I can’t take a side. I’ve got a business,” said Tex, who was elected as the town’s mayor in November. Dale, seated at a table behind him in the diner, nodded her head knowingly.

“I’ve got friends on both sides,” Tex said.

Proposed fracking on Boulder County, Weld County border spurs meeting

Encana employees hosted a community meeting for two prospective well pads planned on private property just east of the boundary between Boulder and Weld County Thursday morning at the company’s Erie office.

Encana has been working with a farmer who lives off of the Weld County side of County Line Road, about three miles south of Colo. 119, for about five months on the well pads. Neighbors in the rural area, however have organized petitions and peppered the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission process with comments opposed to the 12 new wells. Encana is still working with the COGCC on approval for some aspects of the well pads.

Report: Fracking pushes New Mexico’s natural gas production to 27th in world

Fracking and other drilling innovations helped boost New Mexico’s importance as a supplier of natural gas, an industry group says, though depressed prices recently have slowed production in the state.

Using data from 2012, the most recent year for which consistent international data are available, a new report from the American Petroleum Institute ranked the state 27th in the world and seventh in the United States as a source of natural gas.

U.S. officials reinstate oil train safety order

U.S. transportation officials are extending an order for railroads to notify states about shipments of hazardous crude oil shipments.

Emergency responders had raised worries over a new rule that did away with the requirement.

Environmentalists release oil train safety report

Environmentalists from across New York and Vermont converged in Port Kent on Thursday to discuss the threats as they see them of transporting tar sands oil across North Country railways.

“We are playing Russian roulette with the health of the lake. An oil spill into the lake would be absolutely catastrophic,” Jim Murphy, of the National Wildlife Federation, said.

Alaska LNG pipeline project gets conditional export approval

One of the largest natural gas projects in the world cleared another hurdle Thursday, when the Department of Energy approved a conditional license that would allow the Alaska LNG project to one day export liquefied natural gas to Asia.

The Energy Department said the approval will allow export of Alaska liquefied natural gas for 30 years to countries that don’t have a free trade agreement with the U.S., so long as the project makes it past a long and complex federal environmental review.

BP now credited with Gulf Coast tourism boom

Years after the infamous BP oil spill soiled Gulf Coast beaches, the oil giant is now being credited with increased tourism in the region.

It appears the more than $230 million BP has spent since the 2010 disaster has been effective in helping to draw visitors back to areas that some feared would never fully rebound from incident.

U.S. to Limit Petroleum Drilling on Habitat of Greater Sage Grouse

The Obama administration, aiming to keep a finicky, chickenlike bird called the greater sage grouse off the endangered species list, moved on Thursday to limit petroleum drilling and other activities on some of its wide-ranging habitat in the American West.

The move — which includes a collection of 14 land-management plans across 10 states — stems from a determination in 2010 by the federal Fish and Wildlife Service that the bird, a potent symbol of the West known for its flamboyant courtship strut, was in need of protection. Millions of the birds once ranged across the wild prairies, but their numbers have plunged far and fast, down to 150,000 from 400,000, environmentalists estimate.

Pipe to be removed for testing as long oil spill cleanup takes shape

The owners of a pipeline that burst and spilled up to 101,000 gallons of crude along the Santa Barbara County coast expect to remove the ruptured section Thursday.

Federal regulators say the longterm cleanup is just beginning with more than 10,000 gallons of oily water recovered from the ocean’s surface. Responders are now using sonar and diver teams to focus on finding and cleaning oil that has pooled under water.

Senators call Santa Barbara oil spill response ‘insufficient’

Three U.S. senators are raising concerns about a Texas-based company’s “insufficient” response to a pipeline failure last week that released thousands of gallons of crude into the ocean and fouled the Santa Barbara County coastline.

In a letter Thursday to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) questioned whether Plains All American Pipeline acted quickly enough in detecting and reporting the May 19 spill from its oil line near Refugio State Beach.

Oily Substance on California Beach Prompts Officials to Close Coastline

The entire Manhattan Beach coastline outside Los Angeles is still closed today after globs of an oily substance washed up onto its shores.

The tar-like material began appearing Wednesday afternoon and spread out across 6.5 miles of coastline, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. The source of the material is not yet known.

Central Arkansas Water objects to ExxonMobil oil spill decree

In a 21-page email letter sent to the U.S. Department of Justice, Central Arkansas Water condemns a recent ExxonMobil Pegasus pipeline consent decree following the 2013 Mayflower oil spill.

ExxonMobil was ordered to pay nearly $5 million in penalties for state and federal violations last month in a degree brokered between the DOJ, Arkansas Attorney General’s Office and two subsidiaries of ExxonMobil.

Environmental groups protest ExxonMobil settlement deal

Standing in the shadows of ExxonMobil’s oil tanks in Paulsboro, environmental activists and local residents gathered Thursday to protest a proposed settlement agreement between the company and the state of New Jersey that will allow the company to pay $225 million in damages for pollution at 18 industrial sites and more than 800 gas stations in the state.

Initially the settlement agreement was to cover two contaminated New Jersey sites in Bayonne and Bayway. The state sued the oil conglomerate claiming it owed $8.9 billion for the pollution during a trial last year, but settled unexpectedly just before the judge’s ruling.

Alberta wildfires burn for 6th day, 10 percent of oil sands crude offline

Firefighters battled wildfires in northern Alberta, Canada’s biggest crude-producing region, for a sixth day on Thursday, with two blazes near oil sands facilities still out of control.

The wildfires have forced producers in the Western Canadian province, the largest source of U.S. crude imports, to shut in 233,000 barrels per day of crude production, around 10 percent of total oil sands output.

Dozens of Canada’s tar sands projects on hold as prices fall, analysis shows

Oil companies have frozen dozens of projects in Canada’s tar sands, amid falling prices and a rising tide of protest against one of the world’s most polluting fossil fuels.

Some 39 projects containing 13bn barrels of oil are currently delayed or on hold, according to analysis by the campaign group Oil Change International published on Friday. The projects – a combination of open-cast mines and drilling – would pump 7.8bn tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere if they went ahead, the equivalent emissions of 51 American coal-fired power stations over 40 years.

Opposition Mounts Against Kinder Morgan Pipeline in Canada as Indigenous People Reject Proposal

A First Nation in British Columbia has voted unanimously against a pipeline expansion proposal by Kinder Morgan that would carry at least 300,000 more barrels of bitumen per day from oil-rich Alberta to the BC coast, where it would be available to international markets.

But even without the consent of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation (TWN), which has existed in the territory since the last ice age and has never ceded its title, the Canadian government could still approve the proposal.

The tar sands sell-out: Alberta, Canada

Amid the strip mines and steam plants sprawled across the northern Alberta wilderness, Fort McKay is just a tiny dot on the map.

It is also one of the single biggest source sites of the carbon pollution that is choking the planet.

This tiny First Nations community grew rich on oil, and was wrecked by oil. Local Cece Fitzpatrick grabbed what she saw as a last chance for Fort McKay and decided to run for chief, promising to stand up to the industry which came here 50 years ago.

Canada Regulator Can’t Afford Proper Staff, Pipeline Group Warns

Canada’s pipeline regulator can’t afford to keep veteran engineers, and government pay guidelines are to blame, a major industry group told lawmakers.

Because of salaries that are too low to compete with the private sector, the National Energy Board instead hires junior engineers only to lose them once they have more experience, the head of the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association said before members of Parliament Thursday.

Oil lobby group recruited Canadian minister for secret strategy meeting

An oil industry lobby group successfully recruited a Canadian cabinet minister to deliver a pep talk and dispense strategic planning advice at a closed door meeting in a luxury Rocky Mountains resort, the Guardian has learned.

In the 21 October 2014 session, Greg Rickford, the natural resources minister, urged the 40 to 50 assembled executives to work harder to spread the oil industry’s message.

“You are fighting an uphill battle for public confidence,” he said. “Our messages are not resonating.”

Why Won’t the NEB Order a Safety Test of Enbridge’s Line 9?

Environmental and citizen groups in Quebec are demanding the National Energy Board (NEB) explain why it refuses to order a hydrostatic safety test of Enbridge’s Line 9 pipeline, a west-to-east oil pipeline that could come online as early as next month.

A hydrostatic test or hydrotest is a commonly used method to determine whether a pipeline can operate safely at its maximum operating pressure. The test involves pumping water through the pipeline at levels higher than average operating pressures. Enbridge is reversing the flow of the 39-year-old Line 9 pipeline, which previously carried imported oil inland from Canada’s east coast, and will increase its capacity from 240,000 to 300,000 barrels of oil per day.

Amid policy conference, activist groups protest oil pipeline

Chanting “Shut down Line 5” in the direction of Mackinac Island, protesters of the Pipe Up, Pipe Out, Shut Down Line 5 Rally assembled in Conkling Heritage Park — next to the ferry livery — in hopes of influencing policy makers to remove Pipeline 5.

Members of the Oil and Water Don’t Mix Coalition gathered with the Food and Water Watch, Clean Water Action, the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, the Little Traverse Bay Band of Ottawa Indians, the Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council, the Michigan Student Power Network and Concerned Citizens of Cheboygan and Emmet County. Together, they were a group of over 100 from across the state, the majority coming from the Traverse City area.

Texas Company Needs OK From Landowners To Build Pipeline

A Texas company that already has obtained shipping commitments from oil companies to build a 1,100-mile pipeline from western North Dakota to Illinois is having a tougher time getting permission from North Dakota landowners.

Chuck Frey, vice president of engineering for Energy Transfer Partners LP, told the state’s Public Service Commission on Thursday that subsidiary Dakota Access LLC only has acquired 56 percent of the easements needed despite wanting to begin construction on the $3.8 billion project this year.

Revealed: Energy Transfer Partners’ ‘Pipeline-for-Prostitute’ Landman

A DeSmog investigation has uncovered the identity of a land agent and the contract company he works with that allegedly offered to buy an Iowa farmer the services of two teenage sex workers in exchange for access to his land to build the controversial proposed Dakota Access pipeline, owned by Energy Transfer Partners.

The land agent who allegedly made the offer is Stephen Titus, a Senior Right-of-Way Agent who works for the Texas company Contract Land Staff, which was contracted by Energy Transfer Partners.

Federal official says continued low oil prices could threaten pipeline

The top official at the federal Energy Information Administration on Thursday said he’s concerned about the viability of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline if production drops too low, saying that oil prices rise might not rise above $100 a barrel until 2030 or later.

But Adam Sieminski, EIA administrator, said that during his more than 40 years projecting oil prices, he has routinely seen geopolitical events flare up and boost prices after they’ve dipped.

Federal Investigators Blame Shell for Alaska Drill-Ship Accident

Federal investigators have blamed Royal Dutch ShellPlc and its contractors for the December 2012 shipwreck of a drill ship off the coast of Alaska.

The wrecked ship, named the Kulluk, was being towed by another ship, the Aiviq, from Alaska to Seattle when the ships ran into trouble amid a rough winter storm and had to be rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard.

After completing an investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board concluded that while no single error or mechanical failure caused the accident, Shell was at fault due to poor planning and bad judgment, particularly with regard to Alaska’s severe winter weather, according to a new report.

Oil industry takes aim at proposed Arctic drilling mandates

Oil companies and industry trade groups have come out swinging against an Obama administration plan to require they have both the rigs and time to drill relief wells in case of emergencies at their operations in U.S. Arctic waters.

The proposed requirements would unnecessarily shorten an already brief window for exploratory drilling in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas while dramatically boosting the costs of those operations, dissuading companies from drilling in the region, industry representatives said in formal comments filed with the government.

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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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