Environmental Must-Reads – May 8, 2014


Mandeville Mayor against proposed fracking operation near city

Mandeville Mayor Donald Villere said he is adamantly against a local company’s plan to drill for oil near the city and may ask the City Council to pass a resolution against the proposal. Villere is the second western St. Tammany mayor this week to come out against the New Orleans company’s effort to drill the well just north of Interstate 12 and about a mile east of Louisiana 1088 and use the hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” method to extract oil and gas.

Environmental activist John Barry accuses oil and gas representative of misleading St. Tammany citizens

A representative of the oil and gas industry was accused Tuesday of purposely misleading people in Abita Springs last week by saying there was no legislation that affected an individual’s or local government’s ability to bring legal action against an oil or gas company. Author and environmental activist John Barry held a news conference at Abita Springs Town Hall to take issue with statements made by Gifford Briggs, vice president of the Louisiana Oil & Gas Association.

Your Next Car Accident Could Be Fracking’s Fault

The city of Fort McMurray, Alberta, is famous for two things, and the second has everything to do with the first. First, it is the home of Canada’s major oil production hub, the Athabasca tar sands. Second, it is the home of the most deadly road in the entire province.

For at least the last eight years, Highway 63 has been aptly named the “Highway of Death.” And for good reason. As production has rapidly expanded in Fort McMurray, so have the amount of cars transporting workers, and trucks carrying equipment on the long, icy, narrow road. This has caused more crashes, and by extension, deaths. And even as residents try to get the road expanded, its treacherousness has become part of life, an unintended side effect of being a boomtown.

Canada’s Northwest Territories to stay the course on fracking, despite report

The government in Canada’s Northwest Territories isn’t changing its approach to hydraulic fracturing, despite a panel of experts saying not enough is known about the environmental effects of the controversial practice.

A study commission by Environment Canada and released last week concluded research around hydraulic fracturing is neither detailed enough nor conclusive.

Is air pollution causing Vernal’s neonatal deaths to rise?

After Donna Young delivered a stillborn baby exactly one year ago, the Vernal midwife noticed something peculiar in Rock Point Cemetery, where the parents laid their daughter to rest. There were several fresh graves of babies who died in the first few days of life.

That observation led her to take a fresh look at the smog that blankets the Uinta Basin. In winter, pollution from drill rigs, wells and pipelines, as well as from nonindustrial sources, pools overhead, obstructing Vernal residents’ view of the Uinta Mountains to the north.

Suffolk bill aims to protect aquifers by banning fracking waste

The sale and use of liquid waste from hydraulic fracturing will be banned in Suffolk County under an aquifer-protection bill expected to be signed by the county executive this month.

The legislation, sponsored by Legis. William Spencer (D-Centerport), is aimed at the byproducts of the hydraulic fracturing process, used to extract natural gas from rock formations using chemicals, water and pressure. The bill passed unanimously at the legislature’s April 29 meeting.

Denton could be first TX city to ban fracking

A North Texas city that sits on top of the Barnett Shale, believed to hold one of the largest natural gas reserves in the U.S., could become the first place in Texas to ban hydraulic fracturing.

A temporary ban is in place until September, but fracking opponents want to make that permanent through an ordinance that would prohibit the practice in Denton. Some Denton residents turned in a petition on Wednesday in favor of the permanent ban.

Denton City Council reinstates moratorium on new drilling permits

The Denton City Council voted Tuesday night to reinstate a moratorium until Sept. 9 on new drilling and hydraulic fracturing permits, a move that came just a day before opponents planned to present their petition for an outright ban on fracking within city limits.

Deer Lakes Park drilling plan approved by Allegheny County Council, 9-5

Allegheny County Council voted 9-5 early this morning to allow non-surface natural gas drilling beneath the county-owned Deer Lakes Park.

After much debate and hours of public comment, members of council gave county Executive Rich Fitzgerald the votes he needed to pass a plan allowing the county to enter into what Mr. Fitzgerald has called the “most comprehensive nonsurface” gas lease in Pennsylvania.

Watchdog groups wary of proposed fracking rules

New rules proposed for oil and gas drilling in Michigan are getting a mixed response, at best, from watchdog groups. The rules would apply to a type of drilling often referred to as “fracking.” Critics say the proposed changes continue to favor the oil and gas industry over neighbors and the public.

The official line in Michigan has long been that drilling for oil and gas is well-regulated and done safely. But many people are not convinced.

Fracking ban loses for third time

For the third time in a year, Youngstown voters rejected a charter amendment that would have banned fracking within the city limits.

The Community Bill of Rights was defeated 54 percent to 46 percent, according to complete but unofficial results from the Mahoning County Board of Elections. It was about the same margin of defeat as the previous tries last May and in November.

Sunoco Logistics: Opposition won’t delay pipeline

Local opposition to a Sunoco Logistics Partners Marcellus Shale pipeline should not delay the project or add to its cost, the company’s president told investment analysts Wednesday.

Michael J. Hennigan, chief executive of the Philadelphia pipeline company, said the 299-mile Mariner East project, which would transport natural gas liquids on an existing pipeline to port facilities in Marcus Hook, is moving ahead.

Did ’60 Minutes’ whitewash the Deepwater Horizon oil spill?

BP, the perpetrator of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, has been working assiduously over the last year to wriggle out from under a financial settlement it reached for gulf businesses harmed by the disaster.

As we reported back in February, the oil giant has rolled its big guns into federal courthouses, placed ads in major newspapers, and snagged a hugely sympathetic article in BusinessWeek.

BP fighting claims process that it agreed to

In 2010, BP claims czar Kenneth Feinberg arrived on the Gulf Coast promising to settle 90 percent of private oil spill claims without need for the courts.

That seemed preposterous after BP and private claimants signed a multi-billion court settlement in 2012 and gave Feinberg the boot. But with BP using appeals to hold up all business loss payments for the last eight months, a WWL-TV analysis finds that Feinberg’s prediction turned out just about right.

OTC: Oil spill prevention an international issue, DOE says

Oil spill prevention in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico and around the world is an international challenge where nations must work together to avoid another major incident, said Christopher Smith, principal deputy assistant secretary at the US Department of Energy, during a May 6 panel discussion at the Offshore Technology Conference in Houston.

Crude oil spilled from train may be in James River mud

A week after a fiery train wreck at Lynchburg spilled oil into the James River and made national news, the trains are running again and the James looks little worse for wear.

A few oil sheens turned up late last week well past Lynchburg, but even those have disappeared, said Bill Hayden, a spokesman for the Department of Environmental Quality.

Sonar Spots Invisible Arctic Oil Spills

The next big oil spill could be out of sight. Climate warming has packs of Arctic sea ice in retreat, opening up vast areas for oil and gas drilling. That is posing a new problem for spill detectors: There is still a lot of ice in the region, and people cannot see through it. Remember that giant oil slick on the surface of the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig blowout? Off the north coast of Alaska that kind of slick would likely be shielded by miles of drifting ice. “The risk of a serious oil spill in the Arctic is escalating,” the National Research Council warned in a report just last month. And, the council added, the U.S. is not ready to respond.

Green Groups Banned From Hearings on Alberta Tar Sands

The Canadian province that is ground zero for tar sands oil extraction has prohibited a coalition of environmental organizations from participating in regulatory hearings on a controversial new oil industry development, claiming that the green groups are not directly impacted by the project.

The decision infuriated environmental campaigners who say Alberta’s regulatory system is rigged to favor an oil industry that is wreaking havoc on the environment.

Reid Blocks Bid By Supporters To Include Keystone XL Oil Pipeline Measure In Energy Bill

A bid by supporters of the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline to force a vote on the controversial project fell apart Wednesday amid partisan bickering over how the vote should be conducted.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., used a parliamentary maneuver to block a bid by pipeline supporters to include the pipeline measure in an energy efficiency bill moving forward in the Senate. Republicans also were seeking an amendment to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from imposing new greenhouse gas regulations on coal-burning power plants.

Indian rights activists say treaties give them a say on pipeline route

In a new battlefront over energy policy, American Indian rights attorneys argued Wednesday before a Minnesota judge that historic treaties give tribes a say in where to build crude oil pipelines across land ceded by the Chippewa in the 19th century.

“Everybody has kind of forgotten what our rights are, and that is why we are here,” Frank Bibeau, an attorney for the Indian nonprofit group Honor the Earth, told an administrative law judge at a hearing in St. Paul.

Tar sands crude flowing through Northeast Texas

Tar sands crude oil is now being transported through Northeast Texas.

The Canadian company TransCanada, which operates the Keystone XL pipeline, has confirmed that tar sands crude oil is now flowing through Keystone XL’s southern leg, now rebranded the Gulf Coast Pipeline Project. The company confirmed the pipeline activity in its 2014 first quarter earnings call.

Canadian natural resources chief pushes Moniz on Keystone

Canadian Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford met with U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz Monday to urge approval of the Keystone XL pipeline and recognize the countries’ energy ties.

The meeting took place in Rome as part of a summit of energy chiefs of the G7 nations, Natural Resources Canada said. Rickford was appointed in March, so it was his first meeting with Moniz.

The Keystone Pipeline Is Quickly Becoming Obsolete

Canadian oil prices are now just $18 below the price of U.S. crude thanks to a series of new U.S.  pipelines, The Wall Street Journal reported this morning.

This means the Keystone XL Pipeline is already obsolete.

U.S. urges railroads to not use old tankers to haul volatile oil

U.S. regulators issued a safety advisory on Wednesday night urging freight railroads to avoid using older tank cars when hauling highly volatile crude oil when possible.

The Transportation Department action follows a string of derailments over the past 10 months, including a catastrophic explosion and fire last July that wiped out a town center in Canada, killing nearly 50 people, and another fiery accident on April 30 in Virginia.

Feds: Railroads Must Warn States Before Oil Train Shipments

After a series of fiery oil train derailments, the federal government has issued an emergency order requiring railroads to warn state officials before they ship large quantities of crude oil into a state.

The Department of Transportation ordered Wednesday that all railroads moving trains carrying more than 1 million gallons of crude, or about 35 tank cars, must give state emergency management officials advance notice of the volume the trains will carry, their frequency and routes, and which counties they will enter.

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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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