Environmental Must-Reads – November 17, 2014


Could Philadelphia be the next Houston? The oil industry hopes so

Philadelphia’s City Council will hold hearings this month to explore opportunities to help establish the city as an energy hub — a boon for an increasingly influential coalition of public and private players who want to transform it into the Houston of the Northeast.

“Philly has the best ports, the best workforce, the best transportation and roads, great educational institutions and two very healthy refineries,” said Michael Krancer, a former secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, now a lawyer working with some of the energy companies involved in pushing for the city to become an energy center.

Fracking rules for Illinois published after long battle

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources published on its website Friday rules that regulate fracking, ending one chapter of a bitter and hard-fought multiyear battle by environmentalists who lobbied to block the rules from going into effect.

Energy companies can now begin applying for permits to drill for oil and gas using a controversial method that injects water, chemicals and sand at high pressure into shale rock.

Greater sage grouse marks next conservation battle

Federal officials say their decision to protect dwindling Gunnison sage grouse populations in Colorado and Utah has no bearing on next year’s highly anticipated ruling on the far more widespread species of greater sage grouse — but advocates on both sides already are placing their bets.

“I think that this does not bode well for the greater sage grouse,” said Amy Atwood, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity. Atwood said she hopes the greater sage grouse will be protected, but she fears the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will succumb to pressure from industries that oppose the land-use restrictions such protections would bring.

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.

Alberta Landowner Appeals Constitutional Issue in Fracking Case

Can provincial legislation protect the state and “block an individual from seeking a remedy for breach” of her fundamental rights and freedoms under the nation’s Charter of Rights?

That’s the question that lawyers representing Alberta oil patch consultant Jessica Ernst have now posed to the Supreme Court of Canada in a special legal filing known as application for leave.

NC panel OKs rules needed for fracking permits

After 18 months of work and more than 200,000 public comments, a state energy panel on Friday approved a comprehensive list of regulations for companies that want fracking permits to drill for and collect natural gas in North Carolina.

The state Mining and Energy Commission voted in favor of dozens of rules to guide the process for how companies would use the hydraulic fracturing method.

Broomfield will not appeal fracking lawsuit, Sovereign oil and gas still exempt from fracking moratorium

Broomfield will not appeal a judge’s decision allowing Sovereign to bypass Broomfield’s five-year moratorium on fracking, meaning the oil and gas company officially can move forward with plans to drill.

Broomfield had until Thursday to appeal the judge’s decision, and announced on Thursday that the city will not appeal.

Upstate New Yorkers fear gas caves could blow wine, tourism industries

In Watkins Glenn — an idyllic part of upstate New York best known for its Finger Lakes, fall foliage and wine — activists worry it could soon be known for something less appealing: industrial disaster.

Protesters in the area are engaging in civil disobedience to stop the expansion of a gas storage facility that stores fracked gas from Pennsylvania in old mined-out salt caves, claiming it presents a safety risk to local residents, an environmental danger to the Finger Lakes region and an economic threat to the area’s wine and tourism industries.

Stanford endowment adds fracking investments

Stanford University’s endowment invested in three oil and gas companies in the third quarter, a few months after saying it would end direct investing in publicly traded coal-mining ventures.

The endowment, valued at $18.7 billion as of June, bought shares of Rex Energy Corp. with a market value of $15.5 million at the end of the quarter, according to a regulatory filing this week. Stanford also bought shares in YPF SA and Petrobras Argentina SA, with a market value of $11.1 million as of Sept. 30. The fund sold its stake in Exxon Mobil Corp, which had a value of about $201,000.

Researchers assess emissions from Colorado oil and gas fields

The shale drilling boom that is sweeping across the country and unlocking vast oil and gas reserves also has unleashed a wave of air pollutants. Scientific studies from research groups around the country are documenting higher emissions of volatile chemicals, including methane and air toxins, than estimated by state and federal regulators.

Scientists have been combing shale regions from Pennsylvania to Texas, Utah and Colorado, measuring leaks from tiny valves and using satellites to assay the air over entire regions.

Sacramento leaders call for more crude-oil train safety

Concerned about potential oil spills and fires, Sacramento leaders are calling for stronger safety controls on a Phillips 66 proposal to transport crude oil via trains through Sacramento neighborhoods to the oil company’s refinery in San Luis Obispo County.

In a letter approved Thursday by board members of the Sacramento Area Council of Governments, regional officials are asking San Luis Obispo County to require the oil company to notify local fire officials before any crude oil train comes through the area, limit the parking of crude-oil-laden trains in the urban area, provide funding for training on fighting oil fires, and require trains and tracks to have modern safety features.

Hundreds Rally Against Proposed Natural Gas Pipeline In Massachusetts

Hundreds of residents from three Northeastern states rallied against a proposed natural gas pipeline Saturday, saying that the proposal isn’t worth the possible damage a pipeline could inflict on the environment.

About 500 people attended the Stop The Pipeline Statewide Summit in Fitchburg, MA to learn more about the proposed pipeline and to speak out about their concerns of property and environmental damage that could come along with it. The proposal in question is Kinder Morgan’s Tennessee Gas Pipeline Northeast Energy Direct project, which proposes expanding an existing natural gas pipeline from Pennsylvania to Wright, NY and from Wright to Dracut, MA.

USF lands $20.2 million grant for BP oil spill research

Researchers at the University of South Florida have landed a $20.2 million grant to continue studying the impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The award, from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative, is the largest single grant for the College of Marine Science for its work on the spill. USF researchers working in conjunction with the Florida Institute of Oceanography and its research vessels, R/V Weatherbird II and R/V Bellows, were among the first to begin documenting the spill and played a key role in understanding its dynamics.

La. submits requests for oil spill penalty money

State officials are submitting four projects and one program to the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council.

They hope at least a few will rise to the top to receive funding from a part of the BP oil spill penalty money.

As part of the RESTORE Act, the council has control over a part of the funding that will come from penalties and fines resulting from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Greenpeace: 4 activists hurt off Canary Islands

Spain’s navy rammed into a Greenpeace dinghy during a protest in the Atlantic Ocean against oil exploration near the Canary Islands on Saturday, injuring four of its activists, one of them seriously, the environmental organization said.

However, the navy disputed that account. The navy said it dispatched two boats from one of its ships in the area to prevent Greenpeace from boarding a large oil drilling ship and that one of its activists was seriously injured when she fell out of her dinghy and was hit by its propellers.

Oil spill group secures £2.8m cash injection

The company behind a revolutionary new fleet of planes adapted to clean-up oil spills has received a cash injection of £2.8m from the Business Growth Fund (BGF).

RVL Group is converting Boeing 737 aircraft into spraying machines that will clear pollutants at sea on behalf of oil giants such as BP and Shell. The company successfully completed a test flight in November last year. It will use the growth capital to finesse its prototype.

Shell to compensate Bodo community over oil spills

Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) has offered to compensate the Bodo Community over what it referred to as operational spills.

SPDC said that it would compensate fairly and quickly those who have been genuinely affected by the oil spill.

According to a statement credited to the company at the weekend, the Media Relations Manager, SPDC, Mr Precious Okolobo, stated that following the 2008 spills, a team of inspectors including relevant government agencies have visited the site of the spill.

Exxon Mobil denies making spill papers secret

Exxon Mobil has denied claims from plaintiffs in an oil spill lawsuit that it made all evidence about the maintenance and repair of the Pegasus pipeline in Mayflower secret.

Last month, the plaintiffs in the class-action suit said Exxon Mobil declared 872,000 pages of documents about the pipeline confidential. They asked a federal judge to order the company to prove why that information needed to kept from the public, arguing that the company was seeking “unprecedented judicial censorship of a dangerous and hazardous situation.”

The Pipeline From Hell: There’s No Good Reason to Build Keystone XL

The Senate will vote Tuesday on whether to authorize the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline. The Republican-led House approved the initiative Friday by a wide margin. The Senate’s still-Democratic majority will bring the bill to the floor for the first time because of newfound support for the initiative within the party, mostly to boost Sen. Mary Landrieu’s bid for reelection in Louisiana as she heads into a runoff with Rep. Bill Cassidy, a Republican. Cassidy leads in every poll of likely voters in that race by an average of 5 percentage points.

Obscure Nebraska Panel May Hold Sway Over Keystone XL Pipeline

Congress is suddenly scrambling to vote on the Keystone XL oil pipeline, but the fate of the oft-delayed $5.4 billion project could still wind up in the hands of an obscure commission in Nebraska that regulates telephones, taxi cabs and grain bins.

The Nebraska Supreme Court is expected to rule within weeks on whether the Nebraska Public Service Commission must review the pipeline before it can cross the state, one of six on the pipeline’s route. Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman gave the green light in January 2013 without the panel’s involvement.

Rosebud Sioux Tribe: House Vote On Keystone XL Pipeline An ‘Act Of War’

The president of South Dakota’s Rosebud Sioux (Sicangu Lakota Oyate) tribe has called the House of Representatives’ vote to force approval of the Keystone XL pipeline an “act of war,” the Summit County Citizen’s Voice reported on Saturday.

“The House has now signed our death warrants and the death warrants of our children and grandchildren. The Rosebud Sioux Tribe will not allow this pipeline through our lands,” President Cyril Scott said in a statement. “We will close our reservation borders to Keystone XL.”

Gazprom Neft lauds third arctic oil delivery to Europe from Prirazlomnoye

Gazprom Neft has reported the successful delivery to Europe of the third shipment of arctic oil from its frontier Prirazlomnoye field

The Mikhail Ulyanov tanker has delivered the third shipment of Arctic oil (ARCO) produced at the Prirazlomnoye field to consumers in north-western Europe.

Crude shipments from the field totalled approximately 200,000 tonnes in 2014.

Shell Oil Tries, Fails To Pre-Emptively Sue Environmental Groups Over Arctic Drilling

Royal Dutch Shell attempt to start an office of pre-crime will not be getting off the ground, the United States 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled.

Whether or not the oil giant was inspired by Minority Report — the Tom Cruise scifi film where law officers use advanced methods to arrest people for crimes they have yet to commit — is unknown. But they certainly tried to ape the model. Two years ago, Shell preemptively sued a raft of environmental groups in an effort to cut them off from suing the company to derail its plans to drill in the arctic. On Wednesday, the court dryly called Shell’s legal strategy “novel,” and then threw it out as unconstitutional, the Los Angeles Times reported. (Roughly the same thing ultimately happened in the movie.)

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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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