Environmental Must-Reads – November 14, 2014


Worker Dies, 2 Injured in Colorado Fracking Accident at Anadarko Site

Anadarko Petroleum Corp. has suspended some operations in Colorado after a worker was killed and two others were seriously injured Thursday at a company well site in the Wattenberg oil and gas field north of Denver.

“We’ve suspended all our completion operations in the Wattenberg area and our cooperating fully with authorities and the investigation,” said John Christiansen, a spokesman for the company, which says it controls more than 350,000 acres in the state.

Victims of deadly fracking rupture ID’d

One person is dead and two more are injured after a water-line rupture at a fracking site in Weld County.

It happened at a fracking site off Highway 66 and Weld County Road 9 1/2 at 9:33 a.m.

When Mountain View Fire Rescue officials arrived on the scene, they found one person dead and two others injured.

A New Poll Finds More Americans Oppose Fracking Than Support It

A clear majority of Americans now oppose hydraulic fracturing, according to a new poll by the Pew Research Center. And while most voters still support construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, support is slipping there as well.

Fracking hearing draws large crowd in St. Tammany Parish

The ongoing controversy over the prospect of fracking in St. Tammany Parish hit a new level of intensity Wednesday night (Nov. 12) when some 600 people — many displaying anti-fracking signs — packed the gymnasium at Lakeshore High School for a public hearing. And, for the first time, citizens at a public meeting in St. Tammany heard directly from representatives of Helis Oil & Gas Co. of New Orleans, whose proposed drilling and fracking project near Mandeville has sparked months of outrage from some citizens.

Fracking Boom Spurs Demand for Sand and Clouds of Dust

A little sand mine down the road didn’t seem like a big deal 17 years ago, when Alphonse Dotson picked the site for a vineyard in the Texas Hill Country.

Today he’s surrounded by four mines blasting sand from the earth, filling the air with a fine dust that drifts across acres of sensitive grape vines. A fifth will open soon, and he says he’s worried.

“I don’t want us to be smothered to death,” he said.

Finalized Behind Closed Doors, Illinois Fracking Regs Face Further Challenge

The fight against hydraulic fracturing in Illinois will go on even after a panel of lawmakers approved regulations last week that could jumpstart the controversial drilling practice in the state, environmental activists said.

The state’s action is expected to accelerate development of one of the last major, largely untapped American fossil fuel reserves, the New Albany Shale. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the underground formation may hold as much as 3.79 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas and 142 million barrels of oil.

Kansas to deploy seismic gear in aftermath of quake

Gov. Sam Brownback authorized expenditure of $85,000 for six seismic monitoring stations Wednesday in response to a magnitude-4.8 earthquake with an epicenter southwest of Wichita in Sumner County.

The U.S. Geological Survey reported activity at 3:40 p.m. Wednesday was centered eight miles south of Conway Springs, about 25 miles southwest of Wichita. The earthquake had a depth of 3.4 miles. The region also was hit by a series of less intense temblors.

Kansas’ 4.8-magnitude earthquake, felt in Omaha area, likely to spur debate about energy extraction

A southern Kansas earthquake felt as far north as Omaha is likely to add to the debate about the relationship between earthquakes and energy extraction.

Wednesday’s quake, with a magnitude of 4.8, was the strongest of the hundreds to have occurred in the Oklahoma area in the last 11 months, said Dale Grant, a geophysicist with the USGS. Oklahoma has seen a sharp jump in earthquakes with the explosive growth in well drilling commonly referred to as fracking. Kansas, too, has seen a jump. The location of this quake was just north of the Oklahoma-Kansas border.

L.A. lawmakers press for action on fracking ban despite new report

Two lawmakers who want Los Angeles to bar hydraulic fracturing and other kinds of “unconventional drilling” at oil and gas wells are pushing back after city staffers cast doubt on the idea, urging them to swiftly draw up rules that would bar such practices.

The Los Angeles City Council voted in February to start drafting rules that would prohibit hydraulic fracturing — commonly known as fracking — and other kinds of “well stimulation” techniques until adequate environmental safeguards are adopted by state and federal governments.

Lawsuit takes aim at Kern County oil drilling permits

The Association of Irritated Residents, Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club: Kern Kaweah Chapter joined together with Earthjustice to file a lawsuit against California oil regulators.

These environmental groups said the Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources, or DOGGR, approved hundreds of oil drilling permits without the required environmental review.

Illinois residents suing DNR to stop new drilling

A group of Illinois landowners has sued the Department of Natural Resources in a bid to stop the state’s new rules for high-volume oil and gas drilling from taking effect.

The lawsuit filed Monday in Madison County Circuit Court alleged the DNR violated several rulemaking procedures as it worked to implement a state law to regulate the practice. The suit, which also seeks a preliminary injunction to prevent the drilling, names Illinois DNR Director Marc Miller, Gov. Pat Quinn and Secretary of State Jesse White.

Sublette leak spilled 21,000 gallons of produced water

State environmental regulators are tracking a spill of 21,000 gallons of tainted water from an oil and gas operation pipeline on the Pinedale Mesa.

The Department of Environmental Quality has told QEP Resources, Inc. of its options to clean up the spill, which was discovered Oct. 26. QEP may be able to clean the area up voluntarily, according to a Nov. 6 letter to the operator.

Courts Will Take Up Case of Fracking v. Drilling

Dear Texas, welcome to Fracking 101. Your professors? Texas judges.

Denton’s vote last week to ban hydraulic fracturing within city limits drew a national spotlight, but resolved little in the bitter Barnett Shale dispute. Just hours after health and environmental advocates proclaimed victory, two opponents – the Texas Oil and Gas Association and Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson – challenged the ban in court.

Accuracy of Bakken Volatility Tests Face More Challenges

Regulators set to decide on crude-by-rail shipping rules are relying on testing methods that may understate the explosive risk of the crude, according to a growing chorus of industry and Canadian officials.

The tests’ accuracy is central to addressing the safety of growing crude-by-rail shipments across the continent: whether Bakken crude contains potentially dangerous levels of dissolved gases. Several trains carrying Bakken crude have exploded after derailing, including a fiery accident last year that killed 47 people in a small town in Quebec.

What Oklahoma Can Learn From a Municipal Ban on Fracking in Texas

Driven by water worries, safety questions and quality of life concerns, residents in Oklahoma and states other the country have pushed for citywide bans on hydraulic fracturing.

Many of those efforts have proved successful, but, in the end, fracking bans might be more about lawyers than voters.

Future of levee authority’s wetlands damage suit may not be decided until December, judge says

For more than two hours Wednesday, attorneys for the east bank levee authority and for oil and gas companies traded familiar arguments in a New Orleans’ federal courtroom, as a judge considered whether to dismiss the authority’s controversial wetlands damage lawsuit against the energy firms.

But U.S. District Court Judge Nannette Jolivette Brown issued no ruling, and said she may not do so until after a second hearing on Dec. 10, when she will consider whether a state law passed in May actually prohibits the levee authority from continuing with the suit.

Judge sticks to BP gross negligence ruling in 2010 oil spill case

A federal judge in New Orleans is sticking to his ruling that said BP’s conduct in the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil rig disaster amounted to “gross negligence.”

It could mean close to $18 billion in federal penalties for the oil giant.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier on Thursday rejected BP’s call to either amend his Sept. 4 judgment or hold a new trial on the issue.

Foreign majors eye rich returns from deepwater drilling in Gulf of Mexico

Wajih Effendi has been based in Houston for the past two years, slowly developing the Mexico business of BG Group, an energy company. Now, with the country about to open its energy industry to private involvement, Mr Effendi is moving to the other side of the border.

BG Group is among those companies looking to cash in on landmark energy reforms that aim to modernise and develop Mexico’s oil, gas and power industries. For nearly 80 years, state monopolies, onerous legislation and a shortfall of capital have hamstrung the sector through under-investment and huge inefficiencies.

Tar sands battle comes to Northern Minnesota

The growing battle to halt the development of the Canadian tar sands is headed for a federal courtroom in Minnesota.

A coalition of organizations, including national and northern Minnesota-based groups have joined forces in a legal action to head off what they claim is an end-around of federal law by Enbridge, a major pipeline operator in the state.

Shell admits to misjudging Nigeria oil spill

International oil giant Royal Dutch Shell has admitted that the 2008 Oil spills in Bodo, Nigeria were larger than initially anticipated.

In the run-up to a high-profile compensation case in England’s High Court, the Anglo-Dutch company announced on Thursday that the two spills had been far greater than the previously believed figure of 4,144 barrels. However Shell did not give a revised figure.

Shell Underestimated Nigeria Oil Spills by Over 2,400%, Leaked Documents Reveal

The oil company Shell vastly underestimated the size of oil spills from its pipelines in the Niger Delta, and repeatedly ignored warnings from its own staff that the pipelines were in urgent need of maintenance, court documents exposed by human rights group Amnesty International have revealed. The failure of the company to replace the pipeline despite being told their lifespan was “non-existent or short”, eventually culminated in two devastating oil spills in 2008.

Disaster video in the making? Yes or no, take your pick

Barges and groves of trees being sucked down watery sinkholes. Downtown buildings erupting in geysers of flame that can’t be quenched.

Forget the rhetoric. Just roll the videotape, and you’ll see what some people would have you believe is in store for the southwestern shore of Seneca Lake.

Others say such things could never, ever happen there.

This is the essence of the controversy that’s focused on one company’s proposals to store large quantities of propane, butane and methane in underground facilities along the southwest shore of the largest Finger Lake.

Keystone XL Pipeline: Lame-Duck Congress Fast-Tracks Legislation

The tortuous six-year fight over a controversial proposal to funnel oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast took another turn this week after both houses of the lame-duck Congress moved to vote on the Keystone XL pipeline.

As the legislation barrels through Congress and heads to the Oval Office, President Barack Obama may soon settle one of the most politically charged debates of the decade. The White House appeared to downplay the congressional maneuvering Wednesday, saying it takes a “dim view of these kinds of legislative proposals.”

House set to vote on Keystone oil pipeline on Friday

The Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives prepared to vote on Friday to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline that will help transport oil from Canada to the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, but the bill still faces hurdles to final passage.

The House planned to begin debating the bill, which is expected to pass that chamber, on Thursday. The legislation would circumvent the need for approval of TransCanada Corp’s $8 billion project by the Obama administration, which has been pending for more than six years.

Economics no longer make Keystone pipeline viable

What if they voted for a pipeline but nobody came?

As Congress rushes to approve the long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline, it is questionable whether or not the project will make as much of a difference as proponents expect. Since June, crude oil has declined by 28 percent, pushing the price that oil from new wells in Canada may command below what the expected cost will be to produce it.

Rumored Oil Rig Incident Highlights Arctic Exploration Risks

A Gazprom oil rig was damaged by a storm in the Arctic Pechora Sea, maritime news agencies reported this week.

No casualties were reported, and the company denied that there had been any such incident.

But the story revived the ghost of past, deadlier Arctic disasters, prompting environmentalists once again to question the safety of oil exploration in the inhospitable polar seas.

Rare Conference Brings Russian, American Officials To Table on Arctic Oil

Russia’s already strained diplomatic relationship with the U.S. is degrading further amid renewed reports of a military presence in the Ukraine. But a conference underway this week is trying to work around sanctions and rhetoric in order to focus on mutual interests in the Bering Sea. The delegation from Russia is in Alaska to prepare for oil spills and increased marine traffic in the region.

It took Nikolai Kalianto a week to fly to Anchorage from the Russian Far East, where he serves as member of the Chukotka Marine Mammal Hunters for a meeting on oil spills.

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
Cooper Law Firm

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