Environmental Must-Reads – October 23, 2014


Fracking companies use loophole to avoid permits for dangerous chemicals, report says

Federal laws meant to protect drinking water require fracking companies to get a permit before using diesel fuel in the drilling process.

That permit is important: Diesel contains chemicals that can cause cancer and damage nerve tissues. The permits regulate the length and depth of concrete and steel well casings that keep those chemicals from reaching groundwater.

Fracking Companies Using Toxic Benzene in Drilling: Group

Some oil and gas drillers are using benzene, which can cause cancer, in the mix of water and chemicals they shoot underground to free trapped hydrocarbons from shale rock, an environmental watchdog group said today.

Benzene isn’t banned in hydraulic fracturing, although diesel is restricted because regulators determined it may have carcinogens, including benzene. Drillers need a permit before using diesel in the fracking mixture that’s blasted into shale with oil and gas deposits; they don’t need one for benzene. The Environmental Integrity Project today said at least six fracking fluid additives contain that compound.

Marshall County chemical maker wary after ‘near-catastrophic’ fracking incident

As the Tomblin administration considers a plan to allow natural gas drilling under the Ohio River, a major chemical maker in Marshall County has been fighting a proposal for hydraulic fracturing near its plant, citing a “near-catastrophic” gas-well incident last year that might be linked to geologic conditions beneath the river.

Atlanta-based Axiall Corp. has been waging a legal battle to stop Gastar Exploration from fracking natural gas wells that Gastar had drilled on Axiall property under leases Gastar obtained from PPG Industries, the former owner of Axiall’s chlorine and caustic soda plant at Natrium, located along the Ohio near the Marshall-Wetzel county line.

Green groups say EPA underestimates methane leaks from fracking

D.J. Parker has been selling methane-trapping systems to oil and gas producers for over 30 years, and as unconventional drilling technologies like hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, have skyrocketed across the U.S., particularly under Barack Obama’s administration, Parker’s business has grown.

“Over the last 15 years we’ve seen a marked increase in voluntarily capturing emissions,” said Parker, the vice president of operations at Tescorp. “Then in 2012 inquiries really increased … There are two things driving it. One’s economic. The other’s the [Environmental Protection Agency].”

Oil Producers Cramming Wells in Risky Push to Extend Boom

U.S. shale producers are cramming more wells into the juiciest spots of their oilfields in a move that may help keep the drilling boom going as prices plunge.

The technique known as downspacing aims to pull more oil at less cost from each field, allowing companies to boost profit, attract more investment and arrange needed loans to continue drilling. Energy companies see closely-packed wells as their best chance to add billions more barrels of oil to U.S. production that’s already the highest in a quarter century.

Bonn Climate Talks Turn to Discussion of Carbon Capture and Storage Technology

Carbon capture and storage, the technology that pumps greenhouse gases produced by burning fossil fuels beneath the surface of the earth, was at the center of negotiations at the Bonn Climate Change Conference Oct. 21, though much of the work took place behind the scenes in small group meetings.

The technology is controversial within the United Nations climate change process because it is untested on a large scale and can act as an incentive for countries to delay the move away from fossil fuels.

Santa Barbara fracking ban proposal draws millions in oil and gas industry spending

A local ballot initiative in Santa Barbara that would prohibit some forms of energy extraction, including hydraulic fracturing, has attracted the attention of the oil and gas industry — making it one of the most expensive local ballot initiatives in history.

The initiative, Measure P, would ban what it dubs “high-intensity petroleum operations,” including practices like fracking and acid well stimulation treatments, from unincorporated land inside Santa Barbara County. It has backing from environmental groups like the Sierra Club and the Community Environmental Council, unions and the Democratic Party.

Voters Cast Ballots in First Ever Push to Ban Fracking in Texas

For Cathy McMullen, the reasons to ban fracking in Denton are as obvious at the drilling rig that sits on the corner of Masch Branch and Hampton Road on the northwest side of town. It’s big, it’s noisy, and she believes it vents toxic emissions into the community. The site is, however, not very close to any houses.

“I’ll show you where this exact same thing was sitting by someone’s home,” she says.

PUBLIC LANDS: Sportsmen seek room for wildlife amid drilling push

When Bill Wille went hunting in the Piceance Basin in the 1980s, it wasn’t long before he bagged a trophy buck.

“Don’t be upset,” Wille would tell hunters who returned empty-handed. “Tomorrow, we’ll have another crack at the monster.”

Mule deer then were plentiful in the Piceance Creek Basin between Rangely, Meeker and Rifle, numbering upward of 30,000 animals. A license to hunt deer in these rugged mountains of pinyon and juniper trees could be purchased over the counter.

But these days, mule deer numbers are only half as large, and hunters wait years to draw a tag to shoot one.

Petition Hearing Reveals Gaps in Drilling Air Rules

As North Carolina inches closer to a homegrown natural gas industry, the state faces multiple uncertainties in preparing to manage a potentially significant new source of air pollution.

Those uncertainties were on display last Friday, when the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League presented a legal petition that seeks several updates to the state’s air pollution rules. Blue Ridge’s staff, citing a growing body of health research that raises concerns about drilling, called on the N.C. Mining and Energy Commission to list gas drilling as a regulated source of air pollution.

Eastern Cherokee Band Forbids Fracking on Its Sovereign Lands

Invoking tribal health and cultural survival, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has declared a ban on fracking on its sovereign land in what is today North Carolina.

“The Eastern Band of Cherokees will not permit or authorize any person, corporation or other legal entity to engage in hydraulic fracturing on Tribal trust lands,” reads part of the text of a resolution passed unanimously by the Tribal Council last month and signed into law by Principal Chief Mitchell Hicks on September 10. “The State of North Carolina is without legal authority to permit hydraulic fracturing on Tribal trust lands.”

BP Oil Spill ‘Didn’t Ruin The Gulf,’ Says Politico Article Written By BP

When Politico ran an article last year titled “What BP Owes America,” a big disclaimer was scrolled across the top of the piece: “Opinion.” The article, written by the President of the National Audubon Society, argued that BP needed to take more responsibility for the devastating environmental effects of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

When Politico Magazine ran an article on Wednesday titled “No, BP Didn’t Ruin The Gulf,” there was no disclaimer. The article, written by an executive of BP, argued that the Gulf of Mexico has “inherent resilience” when it comes to oil spills and that environmentalists are overreacting about its impacts.

Politico BP Oil Spill Article Raises Eyebrows; Magazine And Oil Company Deny Pay-For-Play

Politico Magazine is being accused of shilling for Big Oil after publishing an article that attempted to downplay the environmental damage of the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. But both the magazine and the oil company insist they are not trying to pull off a slick one.

The article, “No, BP Didn’t Ruin the Gulf,” was written by Geoff Morrell, BP’s senior vice president of U.S. communications and external affairs. In the story, published on Politico.com Tuesday, Morrell makes the case that doomsday predictions about the long-term effects of the Deepwater Horizon disaster have proved to be unfounded.

BP offers a lesson in how to sugarcoat an environmental disaster

The giant oil company BP doesn’t do small-scale.

Not only is it responsible for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill — “unprecedented” in its “volume, depth, and spatial scale,” in the words of the National Research Council — but the firm has mounted what certainly looks like an unprecedented PR campaign to minimize the damage, along with a years-long effort to dodge the financial consequences of its spill.

Officials take patient approach to oil spill fine money

Local officials are taking a patient approach to spending money being allocated for the 2010 BP oil spill.

“We are not in a big rush,” said Terrebonne Coastal Restoration Director Nic Matherne.

Matherne said the parish will at least wait for the state to figure out if there will be any incentive programs for using the money on projects in the state’s master plan for coastal restoration and protection.

Oil Spill in Caddo Parish

A crude oil spill was discovered in Mooringsport of Caddo Parish in Louisiana. The spill was due to a leak in an 65-year-old pipeline owned by Sunoco Logistics Partners, L.P. of Philadelphia. The line extends 1,000 miles from Longview, TX to refiners in Ohio and Michigan. According to Jeff Shields, Sunoco spokesperson, the line is routinely tested and maintained. This is the second major spill in less than a year; Sunoco had another spill in Cincinnati, OH in March 2014. It was on the same pipeline this incident occurred on.

Wildlife released after an oil spill in one local community

Wildlife species are released after oil spilled from a broken pipeline near Mooringsport.

Sunoco estimates about 4,000 barrels worth of oil poured into the Tete Bayou. So far, close to 3,000 have been cleaned up.

As oil crews work to clean up the spill, wildlife rescue teams are working to save hundreds of animals.

Oil Spill training 15 years after major train derailment

Multiple agencies joined together for an oil spill drill taking place in Ship Creek. The exercise was headed up by the Alaska Railroad Corporation about 15 years since an actual spill threatened the Susitna River.

Tim Sullivan, Alaska Railroad Corporate Affairs Spokesperson, says the Gold Creek derailment was the last time the company had a reported spill and while that is a long time ago it wants to stay prepared if another incident should occur.

Whitewater council urges Enbridge pipeline hearings

The Whitewater Common Council is urg­ing the state Department of Natural Resources to conduct public hearings on Enbridge Energy Company’s Pipeline 61, which runs along the outskirts of Whitewater.

The resolution, approved Tuesday night in a 4-1 vote, was introduced by councilperson Sarah Bregant, who called it an “emerging issue in the area.”

Out Of State Money In Montana Supreme Court Races

Last month seven former Montana Supreme Court justices had an opinion piece published in the Missoulian. The title of the piece was Will Montana Judges Be For Sale?

The former justices described out of state money pouring into state judicial elections. They presented facts that can’t be argued with – reports to state officials of campaign spending, from the websites of several of the groups spending the money and in the words of these groups’ spokespeople in news interviews. Money – millions of dollars were being targeted on state supreme court races in states like Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee.

In Search of the Keystone XL Pipeline — and Its Impact on the Midterm Elections

The completion of a 1,179-mile extension (and partial replacement) of the existing 2,151-mile Keystone pipeline that brings tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to refineries in Texas and Illinois has become a dividing line between Democrats and Republicans — even in campaigns far away from where the pipeline would actually run.

In Colorado, an ad sponsored by conservative group Crossroads GPS attacked Democratic Senator Mark Udall for not coming out in support of the pipeline. In Michigan, ads sponsored by Republican Senate candidate Terri Lynn Land blast her Democratic opponent Rep. Gary Peters for opposing the pipeline. These are just a few examples.

Environmental concerns trip up Enbridge oil pipeline project in Ontario

An energy company that ships oil under the Straits of Mackinac has had a pipeline expansion project in Ontario halted by officials over concerns that the plans don’t do enough to protect Canadian waterways.

The Canadian National Energy Board this month did not clear Enbridge Inc. of the final hurdle before the company could begin reversing the flow in Line 9B, a 397-mile pipeline segment that would carry 300,000 barrels a day eastward to refineries in Quebec from western Canada and North Dakota.

Dominion, farmers dig in for long pipeline standoff

Dominion Power is firing back at opponents by shooting down what it calls “myths” over the utility’s proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

A hot-button issue is the potential use of eminent domain to seize private property along the natural gas pipeline’s projected 550-mile route across the state.

Rural groups in Augusta and neighboring Central Virginia counties say the $5 billion venture will disrupt farms and destroy livelihoods by taking agricultural lands.

Tribal leaders testify against Canada pipeline

U.S. tribes told Canadian regulators on Wednesday they’re opposed to a proposed pipeline expansion project in Canada that could dramatically increase the number of oil tankers plying West Coast waters.

Kinder Morgan Canada has proposed a $5.4 billion expansion of its existing Trans Mountain pipeline, which links oil from Alberta’s tar sands to the Vancouver, British Columbia-area. The project could increase by seven-fold the number of oil tankers that transit Washington state waters.

Pennsylvania DEP fines pipeline company more than $300,000 for violations

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection fined Dallas, Texas-based midstream company Regency Marcellus Gas Gathering $306,570 for violations during the construction of two natural gas pipelines in 2012 and 2013, the department said Tuesday.

The pipeline construction was performed by another company, PVR Marcellus Gas Gathering. PVR, which was based in Radnor, Pa., and was acquired by Regency in 2013.

Keystone XL Pipeline Owner TransCanada Named ‘World Climate Leader’

The London-based Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), which serves as a vehicle for businesses to report their greenhouse gas emissions, has issued its first-ever Climate Performance Leadership Index, revealing its “A List” of corporate citizens who are doing the most to respond to climate change.

Norway’s Arctic Oil Ambitions Threatened by Slump in Oil

Norway’s push to exploit Arctic waters for oil, already denounced by environmentalists, is now under threat from the slump in crude prices.

The Arctic Barents Sea off Norway’s northern tip is reckoned to contain 40 percent of the country’s undiscovered resources and seen as key to extending oil production as aging North Sea fields decline. But operating there is expensive and even before the recent plunge in prices state-controlled Statoil ASA (STL)’s key project in the area had already been delayed twice.

Oil train shipper has propane spill in Albany

The company that brings most of the crude oil through New York state had a propane spill at an Albany facility Monday night, but did not notify county officials until five hours after the accident, Albany County Executive Dan McCoy said.

Inspectors for Global Partners discovered a release of liquefied petroleum gas at the company’s Erie Boulevard propane storage facility, which is located near the intersection of the region’s two large highway systems, I-787 and I-90 and the Port of Albany. Global notified the Albany Fire Department, but brought in its own emergency response contractor to handle the spill.

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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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