Environmental Must-Reads – November 22, 2013


Americans Uninformed About Fracking Says New Study

Most Americans have heard little or nothing of the oil and gas production process called hydraulic fracturing, and many don’t know if they support or oppose it, according to a new paper by researchers from Oregon State, George Mason and Yale universities.

The research, published this week, is based on questions about fracking included in the 2012 biennial Climate Change in the American Mind survey, which gauges the public’s understanding of issues associated with climate change.

House Passes Bills To Fine Drilling Protesters, Squelch Federal Oversight Of Fracking

The House of Representatives on Wednesday passed two bills that would, among other things, impose a $5,000 filing fee on any individual that wanted to file an official protest of a drilling project, and take authority away from the federal government to regulate hydraulic fracturing in states that already have their own fracking rules.

House Approves Bill to Fast Track Fracking on Public Lands

By a vote of 235-187, the U.S. House of Representatives yesterday approved its latest giveaway to the oil and gas industry—a bill that would fast track the approval of fracking on public lands, according to Environment America.

House energy bills called irresponsible by NRDC official

U.S. House oil and natural gas bills are irresponsible and will dismantle environmental safety measures, the Natural Resources Defense Council director said.

David Goldston, in a statement Thursday, said the bills, which House members say remove redundant federal regulations on hydraulic fracturing, known also as fracking, and make the approval process for new natural gas pipelines quicker, should die in the Senate.

Fracking Chemicals Case Heard By Wyoming Supreme Court

The state Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday over whether a trade secrets exemption in Wyoming’s public records law may be invoked to shield from disclosure many of the chemicals the petroleum industry uses in hydraulic fracturing.

The landowner group Powder River Basin Resource Council and environmentalists including the Wyoming Outdoor Council argued that individual ingredients in the various chemical products used during hydraulic fracturing can’t be considered trade secrets. Therefore, they say, the information on file with the state must be disclosed to the public.

Rep. Capps asks for fracking halt off California

A California congresswoman has asked for a moratorium on offshore fracking after reports that the controversial oil production process has been used in coastal waters for decades.

Botswana Admits to Allowing Fracking After Documentary

Botswana’s government has admitted to allowing fracking in the southern African nation after a documentary exposed operations the government had previously denied. Some of those gas extractions are happening in environmentally sensitive areas, including a major national park that is home to one of the world’s largest elephant herds. The documentary maker says his work is not anti-fracking, but he wants Botswana’s people to have the opportunity to debate the issue with their leaders.

Botswana Secretly Fracks World’s Second-Largest Wildlife Preserve After Kicking Out The San People

Botswana has been getting fracked for years without the public knowing, even in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, ancestral home of the San people and second-largest wildlife reserve in the world.

The Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA)’s film, The High Cost Of Cheap Gas, contains footage of fracking equipment and energy company employees describing their work as “fracking”. A news release on Kalahari Energy’s website talks about hydraulic fracturing operations in Botswana that began as early as 2009 to extract coal bed methane. And a 2005 post on the site found by the Daily Maverick’s Rebecca Davis talks about the construction of water evaporation ponds “for hydraulic fracturing of the wells.”

Fracking without Freshwater at a West Texas Oilfield

At a dusty Texas oilfield, Apache Corp has eliminated its reliance on what arguably could be the biggest long-term constraint for fracking wells in the arid western United States: scarce freshwater.

For only one well, millions of gallons of water are used for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the process that has helped reduce U.S. reliance on foreign oil over the past five years by cracking rock deep underground to release oil and gas.

Silica exposures in fracking : Over 60 percent of workers may be excessively exposed

At least 1.7 million US workers are exposed to respirable crystalline silica each year, this according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). These exposures occur in a variety of industries, among them construction, sandblasting, mining, masonry, stone and quarry work, and in the rapidly expanding method of oil and gas extraction known as hydraulic fracturing or fracking. This exposure can lead to silicosis, an irreversible, and sometimes fatal, lung disease that is only caused by inhaling respirable silica dust. Silica exposure also puts exposed workers at risk of lung cancer, pulmonary tuberculosis and other respiratory diseases. It is also associated with autoimmune disorders, chronic kidney disease and other adverse health effects. As big a number as 1.7 million is (about 200,000 more people than currently live in Philadelphia), the “true extent of the problem is probably greater than indicated by available data,” according to NIOSH. The CDC agency has also written, there “are no surveillance data in the US that permit us to estimate accurately the number of individuals with silicosis.”

Six-State Study Confirms Job Numbers Exaggerated by Fracking Industry

Drilling in the six states that span the Marcellus and Utica Shale formations has produced far fewer new jobs than the industry and its supporters claim, according to a report released today by the Multi-State Shale Research Collaborative, a group of state-level research organizations tracking the impacts of shale drilling.

BP asks court to order judge to limit spill payments

BP asked an appeals court for an injunction to stop some payments under a $9.2 billion settlement tied to the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, saying the judge overseeing the case ignored the court’s mandate to review claims.

BP is challenging U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier’s decision upholding the interpretation of the agreement by its claims administrator. BP claimed the administrator, Patrick Juneau, approved millions of dollars in “fictitious” payments to businesses for economic losses that weren’t related to the worst offshore spill in U.S. history.

BP sends more drilling rigs to the Gulf of Mexico than ever before

BP isn’t about to let a little worker-killing, ecosystem-wrecking, fisheries-destroying explosion and oil spill slow it down in the Gulf of Mexico.

The company deployed two more oil rigs to the Gulf in recent weeks, boosting its fleet to nine — its largest ever in the area. It brought in the West Auriga rig, known as an ultra-deepwater drillship, and the Mad Dog platform, which was damaged by Hurricane Ike in 2008. Fuel Fix reports

Feds order five companies to halt offshore work

The federal government has ordered five companies to halt offshore oil and gas operations, after they failed to give regulators an audit of safety plans newly required since the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.

The companies forced to shut down their offshore work — all relatively small operators — are Houston-based Breton Energy, EP Energy and XTO Energy, as well as Louisiana-based firms Virgin Offshore USA and Matagorda Island Gas Operations. EP Energy said its shutdown order was in error, and sent to the company for facilities that have since been sold to other operators.

Arkansas lawmaker opposes Pegasus pipeline restart

U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Ark., told federal regulators he was opposed to restarting the Pegasus oil pipeline, which ruptured in his state in March.

Griffin said in a letter to the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration he was opposed to restarting the pipeline, saying there was an “absolute need” to relocate a 13-mile section of the pipeline near a watershed “to ensure the safety of the drinking water of more than 400,000 Arkansan.”

Sinopec oil pipeline blast kills 35 in eastern China

An explosion in a Sinopec Corp oil pipeline killed 35 people in Qingdao in eastern China on Friday, causing a blaze that took several hours to bring under control and halting operations at a major oil port, media and ship brokers said.

Qingdao is one of China’s largest crude oil import terminals, supplying at least two major Sinopec refineries — the Qingdao plant and Sinopec Qilu Petrochemical Corp — as well as many small, independent refineries.

Working Around Keystone XL, Suncor Energy Steps Up Oil Production in Canada

Suncor Energy, Canada’s top petroleum producer, announced on Thursday that it would expand its oil production in 2014 by 10 percent in another sign that the Obama administration’s delay in approving the Keystone XL pipeline extension is not holding back growth in the western Canadian oil sands fields.

“We’re set for a strong year of continued production,” Suncor’s chief executive, Steven W. Williams, said. The company announced a capital spending program of $7.45 billion for 2014, $477 million more than it had forecast earlier this year.

Meetings encourage E. Texans to stand up against Keystone XL pipeline

Phase three of the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline, which connects central Oklahoma with the Texas Gulf Coast, is almost finished. A large portion of the pipeline goes right through East Texas. Julie Trigg Crawford, whose farm is now home to part of the pipeline, is reaching out to East Texans. She says people need to hear the scary truth behind the project.

Alabama rail track sound before oil train crash: Genesee & Wyoming

Genesee & Wyoming, the owner of a train carrying oil that derailed in western Alabama earlier this month, said on Thursday that there had been no concern about the state of the tracks bought from another company this year.

Upgrades, including safety inspections, continue on many of the lines Genesee & Wyoming inherited in its acquisition of Rail America that were considered below company standards.

Canada Commits Funds for Quebec Rail-Disaster Cleanup

The Canadian government is putting in place the pieces to help clean up any lasting environmental damage from this year’s deadly train derailment in a small Quebec town, and to prevent similar disasters.

During a visit to Lac Megantic, Quebec on Thursday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said his government would contribute up to 95 million Canadian dollars ($90.94 million) to help clean up soil and water contaminated by crude oil that seeped from the derailed railcars of a train operated by Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway. The disaster, in July, killed 47 people and wiped out much of the Quebec town’s downtown core.

Arctic Oil Protest Brits Freed In Russia

Five of the Britons arrested by Russian authorities during a Greenpeace protest against Arctic oil drilling have been released from detention in St Petersburg.

Activists Iain Rogers, Frank Hewetson, Alexandra Harris and Anthony Perrett, and journalist Kieron Bryan are the first of six Britons to be freed on bail. Three Russian nationals were freed on Monday.

Greenpeace: In Opposing Oil Drilling, Detained “Arctic 30” Are Standing Up for Planet’s 7 Billion

After more than two months in detention, five members of the Arctic 30 are now free on bail in Russia. The group of 28 activists and two journalists were detained following an attempt to board Russia’s first offshore oil rig. We discuss the case with Greenpeace Executive Director Kumi Naidoo, who says their fate remains uncertain as they continue to face charges of “hooliganism” that carry a maximum prison term of seven years.

US eyes increase in Arctic operations

The U.S. military is looking for ways to expand operations in the vast waters of the Arctic as melting ice caps open sea lanes and other nations such as Russia compete for the lucrative oil and gas deposits. But the effort will take money and resources to fill the broad gaps in satellite and communications coverage, add deep-water ports and buy more ships that can withstand the frigid waters or break through the ice.

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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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