Environmental Must-Reads – November 12, 2014


St. Tammany fracking hearing is Wednesday night

Proponents and opponents of a controversial oil drilling and fracking project proposed for St. Tammany Parish will have an opportunity to voice their opinions Wednesday night (Nov. 12) at a public hearing at Lakeshore High School near Mandeville. The state Department of Natural Resources’ Office of Conservation will hold the 5 p.m. hearing to gather public comment on Helis Oil & Gas Co.’s application for a permit to drill a well.

The holding of the hearing is an unusual occurrence.

Texas Regulator Says She Won’t Honor Town’s Fracking Ban

A Texas regulator declared last week she will not honor a fracking ban passed in the midterm elections by the town of Denton, in the north of the state.

Christi Craddick, Chairwoman of the Texas Railroad Commission, which is charged with regulating the oil and gas industries in the state,  told the Dallas Morning News on November 6, “It’s my job to give permits, not Denton’s… We’re going to continue permitting up there because that’s my job.” The chairwoman is the daughter of Republican state representative and former House speaker Tom Craddick.

Denton, Texas, ban on fracking has not settled the issue, website reports

Last week’s election results in Denton, Texas, were clear. By a vote of 14,881 to 10,495, citizens voted to ban hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the city limits.

The ban is set to take effect Dec. 2, meaning fracking would become a misdemeanor, the website Fuel Fix reports.

But the vote has actually settled very little, according to the report.

Plunging oil prices might be the end of fracking boom, Forbes reports

Small, independent drillers are going to feel the biggest impact from the plunging oil prices, which could bring about the end of the fracking boom, according to Forbes.

The price per gallon of oil has dipped below $80 per barrel, a price many in the industry had estimated was the floor. Forbes said that drop reduces the profitability of drilling, the effect being fewer new wells will be drilled.

Fracking: Time to end US “wild west” wastewater treatment

By reusing wastewater onsite, operators of hydraulic fracturing wells (fracking) can save nearly $2 per barrel of water used.

With the US fracking industry estimated to produce up to 500 million barrels of wastewater per year, this could lead to a $1 billion saving nationwide if operators switched to reusing wastewater onsite.

However, currently only 14% of water consumed is reuse onsite at fracking operations, according to a new report from Bluefield Research.

Angry Canary Islanders brace for an unwanted guest – the oil industry

In most places the news that you’ve struck oil would be cause to crack open the champagne. But not in the Canary Islands where Spain’s biggest oil company Repsol is due to begin drilling off Lanzarote and Fuerteventura.

“Our wealth is in our climate, our sky, our sea and the archipelago’s extraordinary biodiversity and landscape,” the Canary Islands president, Paulino Rivero, said. “Its value is that it’s natural and this is what attracts tourism. Oil is incompatible with tourism and a sustainable economy.”

Pennsylvania’s frack ponds now number more than 500

In 2005, Pennsylvania had 11 frack water pits. Just eight years later, aerial maps show that number has jumped to 529. It’s unclear how many of these sites store fresh water used for fracking, and how many store the toxic wastewater that results from oil and gas drilling operations. The Department of Environmental Protection could not provide the data to public health researchers working with Geisenger on an NIH funded health impact study. So the researchers turned to the nonprofit data sleuths from SkyTruth, who have documented the impoundents with the help of NASA’s satellite imagery and citizen scientists from around the world. Smithsonian.org recently reported on how the project was initiated by public health researchers from Johns Hopkins

US oil boom threatens pristine North-West with crude transport corridors

America’s expanding oil production threatens the pristine Pacific Northwest region of the country with a rash of new oil terminals along the coast, writes Valerie Brown, and hugely expanded traffic of freight trains loaded with hundreds of cars of crude oil heading for California refineries.

Disagreement on legal authority complicates local fracking bans

Last week in eastern Ohio, where natural gas production in the Utica Shale has been booming, voters in three towns rejected ballot proposals to ban hydraulic fracturing. While Athens overwhelmingly passed a fracking ban, Gates Mills, Kent and Youngstown voted down their measures.

The ballot issues highlight the disparity in responses among local officials who are befuddled by the complicated legal baggage of prohibiting a practice that some say is solely regulated at a state level. Bans could legally embroil areas where drilling companies operate, especially with the Ohio Supreme Court soon to rule on the ability of local authorities to regulate fracking.

Anti-frackers make presence felt at Boulder County oil and gas moratorium meeting

When the Boulder County Commissioners held a meeting to gather public input on a possible extension to the county’s moratorium on oil and gas development in December 2012, anti-fracking activist delayed that meeting for half an hour engaging in chants that chased the commissioners from the hearing room.

In June 2013 the commissioners finally voted to extend the moratorium—which pertains specifically to unincorporated portions of Boulder County–for 18 months, stretching until Jan. 1, 2015.

Residents Not Happy With Pipeline Proposal

A proposed natural gas pipeline was the topic of discussion for dozens of residents in Luzerne County Monday night.

The 108-mile line would run from the county’s Back Mountain to New Jersey, but the project isn’t getting a warm reception.

Dozens of residents from parts of Luzerne County came out to Coughlin High School in Wilkes-Barre, hoping to hear more about a proposed natural gas pipeline.

Judge Rules Landowner May Sue Gov’t in Landmark Fracking Case

A landmark lawsuit that challenges the lax regulation of hydraulic fracturing in Canada has just scored a major victory.

In a lengthy decision, Alberta Chief Justice Neil Wittmann dismissed all key arguments made by the government of Alberta against the lawsuit of Jessica Ernst, including the fear that it may unleash a flood of lawsuits against a government that is heavily dependent on hydrocarbon revenue.

Anadarko’s $5.15 billion cleanup deal approved by U.S. court

Corp’s agreement to pay $5.15 billion to clean up nuclear fuel and other pollution received approval from a federal judge on Monday, the final hurdle for the settlement touted by the U.S. Department of Justice as the largest-ever environmental cleanup recovery.

The agreement, reached in April, resolved a lawsuit against Anadarko and its Kerr-McGee unit from creditors of Tronox Inc, the paint materials maker that was once a unit of Kerr-McGee.

After BP’s disaster, a massive plan to revive the Gulf of Mexico

As funds from the BP oil spill fines become available for environmental and economic development projects this month, an alliance of conservation groups has produced a master plan to protect the entire Gulf of Mexico coastline in the U.S.

The plan, which was shared with Fortune, would give some level of protection to 28 million acres of land along 1,600 miles of coastline across five states—Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. If adopted, the result would rival in scale multi-state wilderness preserves such as the Appalachian Trail.

Federal judge refuses to fire Gulf oil spill claims chief

BP’s call for the ouster of the administrator of damage settlement claims arising from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill was rejected Monday by a federal judge.

BP lawyers had said Patrick Juneau should be removed for a variety of reasons, among them that he had a conflict of interest because he once represented Louisiana in talks setting up the claims process and had pushed for favorable terms for those with claims.

Rock Pile Built with BP Spill Money Saves Alabama Island for Now

Nature and a multimillion dollar rock pile built in the Gulf of Mexico after the BP oil spill have healed a large barrier island nine years after it was sliced in two by Hurricane Katrina.

Katrina swamped Alabama’s narrow Dauphin Island in 2005, creating a pass that grew from a few dozen feet to about 1.5 miles wide by the time the oil spill occurred in 2010. The cut left more than 7 miles of pristine beach inaccessible by foot on the island’s uninhabited western end.

But then BP’s Macondo well blew off the coast of Louisiana and spewed oil — and cash — into the Gulf region.

Senate Democrats considering vote on Keystone pipeline to help Mary Landrieu, Bloomberg reports

Senate Democrats are considering a vote on the Keystone pipeline during the lame-duck session between now and when Republicans take over next year, according to an article in Bloomberg.

The move is thought to be a way to help Sen. Mary Landrieu get reelected. Though Landrieu supports building the pipeline, Republican challenger Bill Cassidy has criticized her for not being able to get the Senate to vote on the issue.

Senate Democrats could help Mary Landrieu by allowing Keystone vote

The Senate could vote this month on a measure to push through the Keystone XL pipeline — a move that would give Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu a valuable chit ahead of her Dec. 6 runoff in Louisiana.

The prospect of Keystone reaching the Senate floor, which became the subject of speculation since Landrieu and GOP challenger Rep. Bill Cassidy advanced to the runoff a week ago, has now gone from long-shot to possible. Senate Democrats are signaling that there will be an open amendment process that could allow Keystone approval to be attached to either an Internet sales tax bill next week or the defense authorization bill after Thanksgiving.

Shell Accused of “Hijacking” Clean-up Process in Niger Delta

Today is the nineteenth anniversary of the muder of the writer Ken Saro-Wiwa by the Nigerian junta for his campaign against the oil giant Shell.

Saro-Wiwa was the leader of a campaign by the Ogoni against Shell’s chronic pollution and gas flaring in the Niger Delta.

Whilst the oil giant quite clearly operated to double standards and made huge profits, the locals were on the front line of Shell’s pollution, but they received no compensation in return.

Environmental Groups Challenge ‘Double Jeopardy’ for Arctic Walruses

A group of environmental organizations filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Monday to challenge a rule that would allow energy companies to harm mammals in the Arctic while drilling for oil next year.

The coalition, which includes environmental and conservation groups like Earthjustice and the Center for Biological Diversity, is suing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for allowing firms like Shell to drill and explore in areas in the Chuchki Sea with high walrus populations—vital spaces that are dwindling as climate change continues to melt sea ice in the Arctic, the coalition says.

European Union and Norway Promise Additional Actions to Protect Polar Bears

On Sunday, November 9, the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals adopted a Norwegian proposal to list polar bears on Appendix II of the Convention, which requires Norway and other members to enter into agreements that will restore polar bears to a “favorable conservation status.” The members to the convention accepted the Norwegian proposal by consensus at their 11th meeting in Quito, Ecuador, recognizing the primary threat climate change poses to polar bears.

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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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