Environmental Must-Reads – November 18, 2014


Citizens Protest Fracking Permit in Louisiana’s St. Tammany Parish

On November 13, over 600 people filled the Lakeshore High School gym for a public hearing on a drilling permit for the first hydraulic fracturing site in St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana.

According to Patrick Courreges, a spokesman for Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR), it was the first public hearing for a drilling permit that anyone can remember.

Fracking to occur in East Coast’s largest forest

Over the objection of environmental groups and Virginia’s governor, a federal management plan released Tuesday will allow a form of natural gas drilling known as fracking to occur in parts of the largest national forest on the East Coast.

The U.S. Forest Service originally planned to ban fracking in the 1.1 million-acre George Washington National Forest, but energy companies cried foul after a draft of the plan was released in 2011. It would have been the first outright ban on the practice in a national forest.

Bought by Halliburton, future unclear for Baker Hughes’ fracking disclosure policy

The drilling industry awoke Monday morning to the news that two major oil field services firms would become one. Halliburton will buy Baker Hughes for $34.6 billion, a union that EnergyWire reports will “create a powerhouse in the hydraulic fracturing business.”

Halliburton, Baker Hughes and Schlumberger are the three biggest suppliers of oil and gas development tools and technology, including the chemicals used to frack wells.

Judge to consider request for fracking injunction

A southern Illinois judge is set to hear arguments in a lawsuit filed by landowners to stop high-volume oil and gas drilling in the state.

Madison County Judge Barbara Crowder on Tuesday will consider residents’ request for a preliminary injunction to halt implementation of new state rules to regulate hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”

Popular Illinois park at center of struggle over sand used in fracking

Starved Rock State Park continually lures more than two million visitors every year, from all around the United States, to nearly 3,000 scenic acres in LaSalle County, Illinois.

“It reminds me of Yellowstone National Park,” said Allen Trendler, who traveled with his wife, Rita, from Florida to relish Starved Rock State Park’s beauty.

Known for it’s steep canyons, hiking trails and beautiful views, the park is stuck in the center of an ideological tug-of-war between conservation and development.  At the center of the issue is silica sand:  It forms the beautiful canyons, and it’s also used in manufacturing and is a valuable resource for the process of hydraulic fracturing.

Germany government reiterates its ban on fracking

Germany said on Monday it has no plans to lift a ban on fracking, following a report in news magazine Der Spiegel that it was considering lowering the hurdles for shale gas extraction to allow test drilling.

At present, Germany only plans to allow fracking below a depth of 3,000 metes (yards), to ensure that there is no danger to ground water supplies. Der Spiegel had reported that this depth boundary would be scrapped.

Pequannock considers opposition to pipeline

The proposed Pilgrim Pipeline is proving unpopular with Pequannock people.

“There is absolutely no reason we want this pipeline going through Pequannock,” said Councilman Rich Phelan.

In fact, his opposition is so fierce that he objected to the suggestion by Mayor Melissa Florance-Lynch that the Township Council arrange an informational meeting with the builders of the proposed oil pipeline.

North Dakota Town Sees Second Oil Train Derailment

The North Dakota town of Casselton has seen its second oil train derailment inside of a year. In this incident, the crude oil train was empty, so there was no explosion when it left the tracks or oil spills. The incident last December, however, is a different story, and has residents looking at this crash through the eyes of what could have been. It also has some wondering what it will take to prevent it happening again in the same location.

Empty Oil Train Derails in Casselton, Site of Previous Crash in North Dakota

Another crude oil train has derailed in Casselton, North Dakota. The town was the site of a prior derailment in December when a train carrying volatile oil from the Bakken Shale caught fire, prompting the evacuation of half the town. This time the oil cars were empty, so there was no explosion.

Plaquemines Parish Council fails to kill environmental damage suits against energy companies in close vote Thursday

A motion to halt 21 “legacy” lawsuits filed by Plaquemines Parish against oil and gas companies for environmental damages was defeated by the parish council in a close, 3-4 vote, with one member abstaining and another leaving the meeting before the vote was taken.

The sponsor of the motion, Byron Marinovich, R-Buras, is in a tight race for re-election to his District 8 council seat with Nicole Smith Williams, D-Boothville, who is an administrator with Targa Resources’ Venice Gas Complex and who opposes the suit. Williams led Marinovich 299 to 269 in the Nov. 4 primary, and the two face each other in a runoff on Dec. 6.

BP Tries To Pay Less For The Gulf Oil Spill, Again

BP is asking a federal judge to cap the amount of Gulf oil spill-related fines it must pay at $12 billion, which is almost a third less than the amount U.S. prosecutors are seeking from the company.

On Friday, BP argued in court papers that the Environmental Protection Agency and the Coast Guard didn’t have the authority to raise spill-related fines above the $3,000-per-barrel Clean Water Act cap for environmental liabilities. The Coast Guard has determined that BP could pay up to $4,000 per barrel for the spill, and the EPA has set the fines at up to $4,400 per barrel — an amount that, if the judge rules it’s appropriate, would trigger up to $18 billion in fines for BP. Though BP set aside $43 billion for overall oil spill costs, including cleanup and compensation, it set aside only $3.5 billion for Clean Water Act fines.

BP pushes to lower oil spill pollution fines by $10 billion

Heading into January’s penalty phase of the massive BP oil spill litigation, BP is asking U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier to cut off pollution fines at $3,000 per barrel of oil spilled, rather than the $4,300-per-barrel maximum fine sought by the federal government.

The difference could mean a savings of $10 billion for the oil giant when all is said and done.

Gov. Robert Bentley announces $9.6 million in Gulf oil spill restoration projects in Alabama

Governor Robert Bentley on Monday announced the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) has approved $9.6 million for four Alabama projects that address high priority conservation needs to restore some of Alabama’s natural resources affected by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill.

“The Gulf Coast of Alabama is one of the state’s greatest natural treasures, and it is important that we restore it from the harm caused by the 2010 oil spill,” Bentley said in a news release. “The $9.6 million we will receive from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation will support our continued long-term recovery efforts from the adverse effects of the oil spill.  I appreciate all of our local, state and federal partners who are working with us in this long-term recovery effort to restore the Alabama Gulf Coast.”

Florida gets $34M oil spill grant for conservation

Florida on Monday received $34.3 million in a second batch of conservation grants from a settlement over the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation said the money will fund nine projects that were decided upon in consultation with Florida and federal environmental agencies.

Grant extends oil spill research

Local researchers will lead a continued assessment of the BP oil spill’s impact on the environment under a new $16 million grant.

The Coastal Waters Consortium, led by Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium Director Nancy Rabalais, was awarded the grant by the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative, the gatekeeper of $500 million in BP money to pay for research on the 2010 spill.

Hess Corp. announces production has started from Tubular Bells Field in Gulf of Mexico

Hess Corp. said Monday production has begun from the Tubular Bells Field, 135 miles southeast of New Orleans in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico.

Hess owns 57.1 percent of the field and operates the wells there. Chevron USA owns the remaining 42.9 percent.
New York-based Hess expects three wells will be producing in the field by the end of the year, with daily production of around 50,0000 barrels.

Shell Lied to Dutch Court About Oil Spills in Nigeria, Say Friends of the Earth

The oil company Shell lied to a Dutch court about steps taken to minimize the risk of oil spills during a court case brought against the multinational oil and gas company by four Nigerian farmers and Friends of the Earth, lawyers acting for the claimants alleged today.

Friends of the Earth (FoE) Netherlands and a group of four farmers from villages in the Niger Delta were aiming to claim compensation from Shell for damages caused when a major oil pipeline burst, causing devastation to local communities.

5 Reasons the Senate Must Protect Our Communities from the Keystone XL Pipeline

On Tuesday, the Senate will vote on a bill forcing President Obama to green light the Keystone XL pipeline for dirty tar sands oil. Keystone threatens our air and water and would intensify the climate change already pounding our communities. The bill is a gift to the oil and gas industry, but if it passes, the American people will be stuck paying the price.

This bill would bypass essential reviews, skip safety assessments, and fast track a dangerous project. This has sweeping implications for future generations. And yet it is entangled in the politics of the moment.

Big Oil doesn’t even need Keystone — all the more reason to kill it

A day before the Senate is expected to vote to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline, Bloomberg hits us with the (not shocking) news that the oil industry doesn’t need the much-fought-over pipeline anyway.

Turns out, the industry wasn’t holding its breath in expectation of a quick Keystone approval in the first place. Instead, Big Oil went to work finding other ways to get its product to market: According to Canadian analyst Patrick Kenny, railroads will soon be capable of transporting around 700,000 barrels of Alberta tar sands per day (a scary thought), and the industry is planning new and expanded pipelines to carry far more of the goop than the 830,000 barrels-per-day Keystone is designed to handle.

Pipeline Alert From Federal Regulator Is First of Its Kind

Reversing oil and natural gas pipelines or switching the product they’re carrying can have a “significant impact” on the line’s safety and integrity—and “may not be advisable” in some cases, federal regulators told pipeline companies in a recent advisory.

The alert is the first time the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has officially cautioned the industry about potential safety threats from restarting, reversing or reworking pipelines to handle Canadian tar sands oil and the surge in U.S. oil and natural gas supplies. If not handled properly, those changes can increase the risk of pipeline leaks and ruptures, the Sept. 12 notice said.

Landrieu Tries to Gather Enough Votes on Keystone Pipeline

Senator Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana pushed hard on Monday to round up votes for the Keystone XL oil pipeline, part of a last-minute effort to help her survive a close runoff and one of the toughest battles of her political career.

Even if the Senate supports building the pipeline in a vote on Tuesday night, President Obama is likely to veto the measure on the grounds that an environmental review of the process remains incomplete.

See the Giant Inflatable Keystone Pipeline on Mary Landrieu’s Lawn

Sen. Mary Landrieu got a big surprise Monday morning when protesters placed a 30-foot-long inflatable pipeline on the front lawn of her Washington, D.C., home.

More than two dozen activists assembled on Landrieu’s lawn to protest the Keystone XL pipeline, a project Landrieu, D-Louisiana, has championed and pushed the Senate to vote on this week.

“If she wants this pipeline so badly, it can go through her front yard and not any one of ours,” said Karthik Ganapathy, communications manager for 350.org, an environmental advocacy group.

American Indian Tribe Calls Keystone XL Vote An ‘Act Of War’

As the U.S. Senate prepares to vote this week on a bill to force approval of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which the House of Representatives already passed on Friday, American Indian groups who would be directly impacted by the tar sands project are converging on Washington D.C. to voice their opposition.

The Rosebud Sioux Tribe, whose territory in South Dakota lies along the proposed route of the pipeline, released a statement last week calling Congressional approval of the project an “act of war against our people.”

P.R. Firm Urges TransCanada to Target Opponents of Its Energy East Pipeline

The advice from a top American public relations firm was simple: A Canadian pipeline company should take aim at its opposition.

In detailed proposals submitted in May and August, the public relations firm Edelman outlined a plan to investigate groups that had opposed Energy East, a pipeline in development by TransCanada. Edelman urged TransCanada to develop its own sympathetic supporters and spread any unflattering findings about the opposition.

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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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