Environmental Must-Reads – October 2, 2014


Fracking Emissions Fall; Texas Still King of GHGs

Just like last year, Texas is king of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., while Vermont remains the greenest state in terms of pollution that causes climate change.

New U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program data released Tuesday show that nationwide, greenhouse gas emissions from industrial sources in 2013 rose 0.6 percent over 2012, an increase of about 20 million metric tons of greenhouse gases, totaling 3.18 billion metric tons overall.

EPA says greenhouse gas releases from wells, pipelines decline

The U.S. oil and gas sector reduced greenhouse gas emissions from well sites, pipelines and processing facilities last year despite the industry’s continued growth, the Environmental Protection Agency said Tuesday.

Use of technology and improvements in hydraulic fracturing techniques in natural gas production led the way, accounting for a 73 percent decrease in methane released by that process since 2011, the EPA said.

Legume Used in Fracking Causes Problems for Investor, Farmers

In the race to the new riches of the oil patch, one Wall Street firm has slipped on a skinny green legume.

When the price of guar soared to record heights in 2012, investors took notice. Guar—a legume used to thicken products from toothpaste to peanut butter—is also a key ingredient in the rock-shattering hydraulic-fracturing process.

Baker Hughes to disclose all fracking fluid components

Starting Wednesday, Baker Hughes plans to disclose “100 percent” of the chemicals contained in the mix it uses in the process of fracturing shale formations and drawing oil and natural gas to the surface.

The disclosures for each well will include a single list of all of the chemical constituents of the company’s products used on that well, along with their maximum concentrations, without using trade secret designations, the Houston-based oilfield services company said.

Cracks seen in fracking-disclosure report process

A recent California law that requires oil companies to disclose key details of fracking operations has so far failed to ensure that all the required information reaches the public.

Under the law, an oil company that fracks a well in California must tell state regulators within 60 days the amount of water used and the chemicals involved. Fracking involves pumping pressurized water, sand and chemicals underground to crack rocks, and many environmentalists fear it could taint precious water supplies.

Exxon issues report on managing fracking risks in response to shareholder pressure

Exxon Mobil issued a report Tuesday that acknowledges the environmental risks of hydraulic fracturing but also defends the practice as being better for the environment than other types of energy production and generation.

Under pressure from the corporate responsibility group As You Sow, as well as New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer and other shareholders, Exxon agreed earlier this year to reveal more about how it manages the risks involved with the drilling technique, known as fracking.

Final hurdle cleared for Marcellus gas exports

A federal regulatory agency has approved plans to ship Marcellus Shale gas from Pennsylvania overseas. The decision clears the way to begin converting a former import terminal in the Chesapeake Bay to export liquefied natural gas. Dominion Energy’s Cove Point plant can now move forward with plans to export more than 5 million metric tons of liquefied natural gas each year. Cove Point is the fourth export terminal approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC. It will be the first connected to the Marcellus Shale by pipeline.

Senate Dems call for ‘strongest possible’ fracking regs

A group of Senate Democrats called for the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) on Friday to issue the “strongest possible” safety standards for fracking operations on public lands.

The Interior Department recently sent its rule on fracking, a horizontal drilling method for oil and gas that pumps chemicals and water into the ground to break up deposits, to the OMB for final review.

Democrats to Obama: Get tough on oil companies drilling on public land

A dozen Senate Democrats on Tuesday implored the Obama administration to impose tough new rules for oil companies drilling on public lands across the United States.

At issue is the Interior Department’s proposed rule to tighten standards for wells on federal and Indian lands, including new mandates for the hydraulic fracturing process used to coax oil and gas out of dense rock formations.

Gas export terminal approved by federal commission

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has green-lighted the first export terminal that will send natural gas extracted from Pennsylvania to customers overseas.

Plans already are underway to ship gas from wells in Susquehanna County via proposed pipelines through Luzerne County to the Calvert County, Maryland, terminal where it is to be prepared for customers in Japan and India.

Audit: Offshore drilling permit reviews are inconsistent

The federal agency in charge of regulating offshore drilling doesn’t have standardized procedures for reviewing permits and has not finished establishing an electronic program designed to streamline the process, according to a government report issued Wednesday.

The report from the inspector general for the Department of the Interior, gave the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement credit for making some big changes since the 2010 blowout of BP’s Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico, but said more work is needed on permitting.

BP Must Face U.S. Suits by Foreign Investors, Judge Rules

BP Plc, facing as much as $2.5 billion in claims by U.S. shareholders for lost stock value connected to the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, must fight suits by foreign investors seeking millions of dollars more, a judge ruled.

U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison in Houston said U.S. securities law doesn’t bar foreign investors who bought BP common shares on exchanges overseas from pursuing their claims under English law in his court. Ellison earlier allowed U.S. pension funds holding London shares the right to sue under British law.

Judge allows investor suits over Gulf spill to proceed

BP failed to persuade a Texas federal judge to dismiss several lawsuits brought by American and British institutional investors claiming the oil company misled them about the impact of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

In a series of rulings unsealed Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison in Houston disagreed with many of BP’s arguments for killing the securities lawsuits brought by foreign investors and U.S. public pension funds. Ellison allowed 85 plaintiffs’ cases to move forward. Fifteen others survived BP’s efforts to dismiss them last year, and 20 more are still pending.

Godwin Lewis Cuts 17 Lawyers Following Successes in Oil Spill Litigation

Godwin Lewis of Dallas laid off 17 lawyers, including three shareholders, and six staffers on Sept. 30. The layoffs came in the wake of conference table and courtroom success on behalf of client Halliburton Co. in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill litigation.

“When you are handling major litigation, as we typically do at Godwin Lewis, someday that litigation is going to be over and adjustments will be made,” Donald Godwin, chairman and chief executive officer of Godwin Lewis, said today.

Oil spill cleanup planned at New Haven’s former English Station power plant

The Coast Guard is preparing for an environmental cleanup inside the former English Station power plant after oil from the facility apparently went into the Mill River last month.

The Coast Guard was contacted Sept. 15 by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection after several oil slicks were spotted on the river near the plant, which sits on an island, said Cmdr. Jonathan Theel, response chief for the New Haven Coast Guard station.

Washington governor wants quick action on oil spills

Citing deadly risks associated with increasing volatile shipments of crude oil through Washington, Gov. Jay Inslee on Wednesday said the state and federal governments need to take swift action to prevent and respond to oil spills.

The governor likened an oil train explosion to “a bomb” going off, and said he’s concerned that local emergency responders, particularly in smaller communities along rail lines, aren’t adequately prepared to respond to accidents.

U.S. may push for regional oil development standards in Arctic

The United States may use its role heading the Arctic Council to push for standards governing oil drilling and development throughout the region, the Obama administration’s top Arctic envoy said this week.

Retired Adm. Robert Papp Jr., who became the first U.S. special representative for the Arctic in July, said forthcoming Interior Department regulations governing Arctic drilling could be a model for other nations seeking to tap the region’s potential oil and natural gas riches.

Russia closes books on Arctic 30

Advocacy group Greenpeace said Russian investigators have closed the books on its probe into the actions of activists dubbed the Arctic 30.

Greenpeace last year used its Arctic Sunrise vessel to gain access to the Prirazlomnaya rig, deployed by Russian energy company Gazprom for work in the country’s arctic waters. Two freelance journalists and 28 Greenpeace activists, dubbed the Arctic 30, were held by Russian authorities on piracy charges last year.

Chicago, suburbs tell U.S. to tighten crude-oil train rules

Warning that a crude-oil train derailment in the densely populated Chicago area could result in “unthinkable” devastation, city and suburban officials are calling for stricter rules on hazardous material shipments than the federal government has proposed.

“An incident in a heavily populated area of the city could potentially impact thousands of people in the immediate vicinity of a hazardous materials release or explosion,” the city said in documents filed with federal regulators.

Secret is out: Potentially dangerous oil train shipments roll through Nebraska weekly

Nearly half a million folks in 11 eastern Nebraska counties now know what top state officials have known for several months. Millions of gallons of dangerous and potentially deadly oil train shipments are traveling through their backyards every week.

In an unexpected about-face, state officials Tuesday released what they previously said was highly sensitive security information.

API boasts of benefits of industry oil train rules

The American Petroleum Institute said federal proposals for safer transit of oil by rail are not feasible, though its program can provide a reasonable solution.

API said proposals outlined by the U.S. Department of Transportation for safer oil transit could stifle North American crude oil production.

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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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