Environmental Must-Reads – November 7, 2014


The Climate Lost Big-Time in Tuesday’s Election

Tuesday’s elections were a major defeat for those who want to take serious action against global warming. Environmentalists spent millions in an effort to defeat pro-fossil-fuel Republicans, but their efforts largely failed. Key Senate committees will now be controlled by climate deniers, and even in blue states, clean energy advocates suffered big setbacks. Here are some of last night’s most significant electoral blows in the battle against climate change—along with a couple small victories.

First Lawsuits Filed Over Denton’s New Fracking Ban

That was fast.

Just hours after Denton residents voted to ban hydraulic fracturing, the Texas General Land Office and the state’s biggest petroleum group fired off separate legal challenges to the new rule.

“This ban on hydraulic fracturing is not constitutional and it won’t stand,” said Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, who filed a lawsuit in Travis County courts Wednesday seeking a permanent injunction against the ban.

Split Decision by Voters on Local Fracking Bans

The small city of Denton, Tex., voted to ban hydraulic fracturing in Tuesday’s election after a hard-fought battle between environmentalists and local oil companies in the heart of natural gas country.

But nationwide, local initiatives to ban or restrict the oil and gas production process lost as many elections as were won. Voters in Youngstown, Ohio, a Rust Belt city sitting atop vast deposits of natural gas, sent a proposed ban to a landslide defeat.

Denton’s ban won’t stop fracking permits, Railroad Commission chairwoman says

Despite Denton’s vote to prohibit fracking, the state Railroad Commission plans to continue giving permits to companies wanting to drill there, the agency’s chairwoman said Thursday.

Christi Craddick, a Republican, said she was disappointed that voters adopted the ban on hydraulic fracturing — a technique of drilling deep into the ground to release oil and gas.

But she took a confrontational swing in response: “I believe it’s my job to give permits, not Denton’s. … We’re going to continue permitting up there because that’s my job.”

Goliad residents worried about water from proposed waste site

In the heart of the Eagle Ford Shale is Nordheim, Texas, home to a proposed fracking solid waste site.

The proximity to the town school has stirred opposition, but there is also opposition from Goliad County because they share the same aquifer.

Less than half a mile from Main Street in Nordheim is an open tract of land where trucks from all over the Eagle Ford Shale may soon come to dump their fracking solid waste.

NC panel eyes unannounced fracking inspections

Members of a state commission who oversaw public hearings on fracking are recommending that rules be revised to allow unannounced inspections of hydraulic fracturing operations, according to a report released Wednesday.

Other recommendations ranged from editing definitions of certain terms to specifying a setback to protect municipal water supplies.

Where Do Fracking Fluids Go? Scientists Create the First Detector

Despite the concerns about wastewater from hydraulic fracturing, it can be difficult to keep track of where the drilling fluids end up. Now a team of researchers claims to have figured out how to trace leaks and spills of fracking fluids—and even detect their presence in treated water.

The method, detailed in a study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, relies on identifying a specific combination of geochemical characteristics unique to fracking wastewater. “There’s a particular chemical signature we look for,” explains Nathaniel Warner, postdoctoral fellow at Dartmouth College and lead author of the study. That signature is independent of ingredients that make up fracking fluids, which vary and are often proprietary. Instead, it relies on elements that merge with the fracking fluids underground.

Little-known panel set to approve key fracking rules

After more than two years of hearings, protests and public outcry, the fate of hydraulic fracturing in Illinois comes down to a meeting Thursday of an obscure, stodgy and largely unwatched committee called the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules.

Fracking can begin in Illinois

Haul out the oil rigs, fracking can begin in Illinois.

An obscure arm of state government cleared the way Thursday for oil and gas drillers to apply for permits to begin fracking in Illinois, which could find itself the center of an oil boom by next fall if the energy firms that have leased land here begin to drill.

The Joint Committee on Administrative Rules moved forward regulations that govern hydraulic fracturing, a drilling process that injects water, chemicals and sand at high pressure into shale rock to unleash oil and gas.

Environmental groups challenge NC’s new fracking rules

Environmental groups say proposed rules on fracking do not do enough to protect drinking water.

The North Carolina Mining and Energy Commission began reviewing 40 pages of recommended changes to their proposed fracking rules on Thursday. They’ll continue reviewing those changes on Friday, with a vote expected at a meeting next week. The General Assembly’s Rules Review Commission will then take up the rules, with fracking permits being issued 61 days after that.

Planned Sunoco pipeline will quadruple gas liquids traffic

Sunoco Logistics Partners L.P. announced Thursday that it will build an enormous, $2.5 billion pipeline project that will quadruple the volume of Marcellus Shale natural gas liquids moving through the Philadelphia area.

The Mariner East 2 project, the second phase of a plan to move materials like propane, butane, and ethane from Appalachian shale-gas fields, would dramatically expand industrial activity at the company’s Marcus Hook Industrial Complex.

Court reaffirms BP liable in Gulf oil spill

A federal appeals court panel has reaffirmed its ruling that BP is liable for federal Clean Water Act damages stemming from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the latest loss for the oil giant as it fights court decisions that could ultimately bring $18 billion in penalties.

The three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected arguments that there were errors in its June 4 ruling on BP’s Clean Water Act liability. The ruling released Wednesday night is not the final say from the court. BP and its minority partner in the Macondo well, Anadarko Petroleum Corp., have a request pending for the full 15-member court to reconsider the issue.

BP Loses Latest Court Appeal on Liability for Gulf Oil Spill

A federal appeals court panel has reaffirmed its ruling that BP is liable for federal Clean Water Act damages from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. It is the latest loss for the company as it fights court decisions that could bring $18 billion in penalties. The three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit rejected arguments that there were errors in its June 4 decision. This ruling is not the final say, however. BP and Anadarko Petroleum, its minority partner in the affected oil well, have a request pending for the full 15-member court to reconsider the issue. The companies have said they are not liable because the accident was caused by equipment failure.

Appeals court stands by ruling holding BP, Anadarko liable for oil spill penalties

A panel of federal appeals court judges in New Orleans has refused to reconsider a ruling that BP and Andarko Petroleum Corp. must pay federal fines related to the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil disaster.

BP and Anadarko, co-owners of the failed Macondo oil well, had sought to avoid penalties by blaming another company’s failed equipment.

Pipeline Politics

The environment took a beating on Election Day, but what happens next could be even more painful for green groups and their climate-conscious allies. Republicans, who will control both chambers of Congress next year for the first time in nearly a decade, wasted little time this week making it clear that approving the Keystone XL pipeline is at the top of their legislative to-do list. Greenlighting the 1,700-mile pipeline has been a Republican priority for years. Now they finally have the votes to do it.

Obama’s Keystone Pipeline Decision Just Got Tougher

For six years a coalition of Democrats, environmentalists, and farmers have battled the Keystone XL pipeline, a 1,179-mile conduit proposed by energy company TransCanada that would link U.S. oil refineries with Canada tar sands.

Halting the pipeline has become an article of faith in liberal Democratic circles. Donors stop Obama at fundraisers and badger him not to approve the project. Thousands of protestors, including Native Americans and Nebraska ranchers on horseback, swarmed Washington last April in opposition to Keystone. And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid refused to hold any votes on the issue.

Canada’s Oliver: remains committed to Keystone pipeline project

Canada’s Finance Minister Joe Oliver said on Thursday the government remains committed to the Keystone XL pipeline project and that he believes “at the end of the day” it will gain approval.

TransCanada Corp’s $8 billion Keystone XL project would carry Alberta oil sands crude to the U.S. Gulf coast. The project has been awaiting presidential approval for more than six years, but this week’s U.S. mid-term elections revived the issue after Republicans took control of Congress.

Pilgrim Pipeline accused of harassing Morris residents

Representatives of Pilgrim Pipeline Holdings are trying to intimidate private landowners along possible routes for its proposed oil pipeline to gain access to their property for surveys and studies, according to the Eastern Environmental Law Center.

Law center attorney Aaron Kleinbaum, on behalf of the Sierra Club, sent a letter to Pilgrim Pipeline attorney J.S. Lee Cohen demanding that the company “cease and desist” making “wrongful legal and factual claims” in writing to landowners in several towns who previously have denied the company property access.

Oil pipeline company is threatening to take N.J. homeowners to court if surveys denied

A company that wants to build an oil pipeline through North Jersey is threatening to take homeowners to court if they don’t allow the company access to their properties to determine the pipeline’s path, environmentalists said Thursday.

A letter sent to a Parsippany resident in October by a lawyer for Pilgrim Pipeline said the company has a legal right to go onto private property to conduct land surveys and other studies. If the homeowner refuses, the letter said, Pilgrim will go to court to force access through the law of eminent domain, which allows private property to be taken for public use.

Sanctions Threaten Russian Arctic Oil Shipping Ventures

Shipping services that support Russia’s attempts to extract oil from remote parts of the Arctic will run into difficulties as banks scale back energy financing due to Western sanctions, increasing transport costs for the frontier sector.

Sanctions imposed on Russia by the United States and European Union over Ukraine have targeted the delivery of oil technology, goods and services, aiming to make it impossible for Moscow to access new oil sources.

Statoil suspends two North Sea oil rigs

Statoil ASA suspended two more rigs as Norway’s biggest oil company reins in spending, adding pressure to drillers’ rental rates in the North Sea.

Statoil won’t use the Transocean Spitsbergen and Songa Trym rigs from mid-November through at least the year-end because of overcapacity, it said today in a statement. Songa Offshore, owner of one of the rigs, fell as much as 14 percent in Oslo.

First Japanese nuclear power plant since Fukushima to resume operations

A local governor in Japan has given final approval to restart a nuclear power plant in southern Japan, the first to resume operations in the country under new safety rules imposed after the 2011 Fukushima Dai-ichi meltdowns caused by an earthquake and tsunami.

Kagoshima governor Yuichiro Ito said restarting two reactors at the Sendai power station would go ahead despite the concerns of residents.

“All things considered, I must say that we still need to rely on nuclear energy, and it is extremely important for us to steadily carry out the plan,” Ito told a news conference.

Three Construction Workers Injured at Fukushima

Three construction workers have sustained work-related injuries at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, AFP reports, citing the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO).

The workers were hurt after steel construction material collapsed on them. One of the injured men temporarily lost consciousness, according to a TEPCO spokesman. He was taken to hospital by helicopter and remains in critical condition. Another worker broke his leg in the incident. The third person sustained minimal injuries and can walk unassisted.

Mission to remove used fuel complete at Fukushima

A year-long operation to remove all the used fuel assemblies from the storage pool at the damaged Fukushima Daiichi unit 4 has been successfully completed. Some fresh fuel remains in the pool, but this should be removed by the end of the year.

Kurion begins test to treat Fukushima tritium

JAPAN has awarded a ¥1bn (US$10m) grant to US waste management firm Kurion to demonstrate a system for removing tritium from contaminated wastewater at the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant.

Kurion’s process technology is one of three offerings alongside submissions from GE Hitachi and FSUE Radioactive Waste Management Enterprise shortlisted by Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) in August.

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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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