Environmental Must-Reads – October 6, 2014


The Invisible Oil in Louisiana’s Senate Race

Dean Blanchard says three prayers at night: “An Our Father, a Hail Mary… and I pray that the idiot in North Korea can figure out how to blow up Washington, DC, so we can start over.”

The Louisiana shrimp processor sat looking over the marina at Grand Isle, a ramshackle resort destination south of New Orleans on the Gulf of Mexico. Blanchard’s business was hit hard by the BP oil spill in 2010 and is still struggling. BP, he noted, is doing fine. Just two years after the spill, the company announced a record profit.

East bank levee authority’s environmental damages suit against energy companies has produced $642,000 in legal expenses, $1.2 million in ‘political costs’ through August

Attorneys representing the east bank levee authority in their controversial wetlands damages lawsuit against 90 oil, gas and pipeline companies said Thursday that they had spent more than $642,000 on legal expenses related to the case through August.

The attorneys also have spent more than $1.2 million on “political costs,” expenses they incurred representing the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East during the 2014 legislative session, when they unsuccessfully attempted to block passage of legislation aimed at stripping the authority of the ability to continue with the suit, said Gladstone Jones, an attorney with the New Orleans-based Jones, Swanson law firm that’s leading a team of three law firms working on the case.

Fracking’s Waste Pit Emissions: The Big Unknown

As oil and gas drilling spreads across the United States, scant attention has been paid to air emissions from the waste the boom has created. InsideClimate News and The Center for Public Integrity examine these emissions in the latest installment in their 18-month investigation, Big Oil and Bad Air on the Texas Prairie.

In Fracking’s Wake: Vast Open Pits of Chemical Sludge

As oil and gas drilling spreads across the United States, scant attention has been paid to air emissions from the waste the boom has created. InsideClimate News reporters David Hasemyer and Zahra Hirji examine these emissions in the latest installment in an 18-month investigation, Big Oil & Bad Air on the Texas Prairie conducted by InsideClimate News and The Center for Public Integrity.

This video, reported by CPI’s Eleanor Bell, shows residents of Nordheim, Texas, trying to stop construction of a waste facility that would be almost as large as the town itself.

New York, drillers agree on increased risk-disclosure to investors

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced agreements with two natural gas development companies that will ensure the public disclosure of information on the financial risks that hydraulic fracturing – commonly referred to as fracking – poses to their investors. Under the agreements, Anadarko Petroleum Corp. (Anadarko) and EOG Resources, Inc. (EOG) commit to providing publicly accessible information on the financial effects of regulation, litigation, and environmental impacts of their fracking operations.

Watchdog hits offshore drilling regulator on permit oversight

The federal agency tasked with regulating the safety of offshore oil-and-gas drilling does not consistently enforce rules for permit review on its regional offices, according to the Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG).

OIG auditors found that the headquarters of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) largely allows its three regional offices for the Gulf Coast, California and Alaska to review and grant permits on their own terms.

Drilling Waste Site Roils Tiny Nordheim

Paul Baumann proudly listed his hometown’s features as he drove his Ford truck down its empty Main Street: “One grocery store, two bars, one cafe, one beauty salon and one shooting club.” He pointed to the local school that houses students from kindergarten through 12th grade — which recently underwent a major remodel thanks to a $3 million bond vote.

But Baumann’s tone turned somber when he addressed what he and his neighbors are fighting to keep out: a 143-acre oil and gas waste plant that developers hope to build just outside of this town of about 300.

A fight to control disposal of fracking waste

Wastewater from fracked wells that produce gas and oil in Pennsylvania and West Virginia is coming to Ohio.

Julie Grant, a reporter who has been researching this issue, says Ohio has become a go-to place for the nation’s fracking waste disposal. Grant reports on environmental issues in Ohio and Pennsylvania for the program The Allegheny Front.

“Energy companies point to the geology. They say the layers of underground rock that are better for wastewater storage are easier to access in Ohio, than in Pennsylvania’s hilly Appalachian basin,” Grant says.

Unusual alliance on oil spill cleanup near Tioga

On Monday, Patty Jensen delivered a treat to the workers doing the cleanup on the site of one of North Dakota’s largest oil spills.

For husband Steve, it was just another day at the end of a busy harvest. But a year ago, his discovery of oil in their wheat field near Tioga set off a media frenzy and an outcry over the 11-day delay by state officials in notifying the public.

Proposed Registry to Track, Respond to Fracking-Related Health Complaints

In 2011 the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission recommended a registry to collect health data from people living nearing fracking operations. Three years later that registry has yet to be created, and a state Senate panel says such a database is an important step toward tracking and responding to public health complaints related to gas drilling.

State Sen. John Yudichak (D-Luzerne) says individual health studies are fine, but the state needs to develop data that covers all parts of the commonwealth.

Boulder researchers link oil, gas activity to high wintertime ozone

Chemicals released into the air by oil and gas extraction activities can trigger reactions leading to high ozone levels in the wintertime that exceed federal standards, according to a new study by Boulder-based researchers.

The discovery of heightened ozone levels in wintertime in the study area of northeastern Utah’s Uintah Basin — averaging up to nearly double the current federal standard — came as a surprise to the researchers.

Maryland Sees Little Risk To Water From Fracking

Maryland’s environmental regulators released a report Friday suggesting there is little risk of drinking water contamination from hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in the far western part of the state.

The finding surprised critics, who have cited much-publicized cases of tainted groundwater linked to gas wells in Pennsylvania and Texas. The report cites recent studies that blame that contamination on problems with pipes and seals rather than on the drilling technique, also known as fracking.

Millions Of Tons Oil And Gas Waste: Hazardous Or Not?

The United States is on the verge of becoming the world’s top producer of oil – that’s according to the International Energy Agency.  But the oil boom is also leading to a boom in toxic oil field waste that can end up in open pit disposal sites.  There are increasing concerns over the dangers these disposal sites pose for air quality.

What Could the West Virginia Plan to Frack Under the Ohio River Mean for Kentucky?

West Virginia is accepting bids on a plan to allow hydraulic fracturing for natural gas (or “fracking”) beneath the Ohio River. The move would provide the state with much-needed revenue, but environmental and citizen groups are concerned about the possible contamination of drinking water for millions of people.

Louisville is one of the communities downriver that uses the river for drinking water.

Oil-field health studies continue but answers are still lacking

It’s been 18 years since Steve Mobaldi and his late wife, Chris, first got burning eyes and nosebleeds when oil and gas drilling came to their Garfield County neighborhood. In the interim, hundreds of others have complained about health problems. Dozens of studies have looked for a link between those problems and drilling.

One of those studies, done partly in the Mobaldis’ old neighborhood nearly five years ago, found enough emissions in the air to potentially cause illnesses. But, before that link could be strengthened by researchers at the Colorado School of Public Health, the oil and gas industry complained about the quality of the research. County commissioners dropped the study contract.

Obsolete tests tainted shale analysis

State regulators did not consider available water chemistry test results and had limited knowledge of past spills and leaks at Range Resources’ Yeager Farm shale gas development site in Washington County before deciding the operation did not contaminate the nearby private water supply of Loren Kiskadden, according to testimony last week in the ongoing case before the state Environmental Hearing Board in Pittsburgh.

BP swipe at “reckless” ruling hinges on challenge to Halliburton expert

BP’s attempt to unravel a verdict that its recklessness caused the Deepwater Horizon oil spill hinges on its legal and scientific challenge to the testimony of one expert and its bid to cast more blame for the disaster on cement contractor Halliburton.

Objecting to a key theory underpinning a federal judge’s decision that could bring billions in pollution fines, BP said late Thursday one of Halliburton’s experts had been overruled three times at trial when he testified that massive compressive forces could have weakened the cement production casing poured into the Macondo well, later causing a breach that let oil into the well, a major factor behind the 2010 Gulf of Mexico spill.

BP oil spill trustees approve $627M for restoration, including $340M in Louisiana

Federal and state trustees for the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill have given final approval to plans to spend $627 million on restoration projects, including $340 million in Louisiana, officials announced Friday.

The money represents the third phase of approvals of projects funded with $1 billion BP set aside as an early payment for damages caused by the spill. The early payment is part of money the company will have to pay under the Natural Resource Damage Assessment program required by the federal Oil Pollution Act of 1990.

BP oil spill claims investigator Louis Freeh replaced as head of law firm as work challenged, website reports

Louis Freeh, the former FBI director appointed to investigate fraud in the BP oil spill claims program, has been replaced as head of his law firm amid questions about his work, the Centre Daily Times reports.

The report says Freeh’s Philadelphia firm, Pepper Hamilton LLP, released a Thursday (Oct. 2) statement that said Freeh will be replaced as chairman by another member of the firm’s executive committee, although he will remain a partner and committee member.

Alabama receives $93.8 million in oil spill money

Nearly $627 million in oil spill money has been approved for dozens of restoration projects designed to help Gulf Coast communities recover from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

It’s the third — and by far the largest — installment of money for 44 projects designed to reverse damage from the nation’s worst environmental catastrophe.

Louisiana’s estuaries boast shrimp abundance after oil spill

Brown and white shrimp species (Farfantepeneus aztecus and Litopeneus setiferus) have become more abundant in Louisiana’s coastal estuaries following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

These findings are the result of a study conducted by scientists Joris L. van der Ham and Kim de Mutsert, with George Mason University’s Department of Environmental Science and Policy published in the online scientific journal PLOS One.

Insurance fight over cost of 37-acre sinkhole in Bayou Corne

The operator of a brine mine that collapsed and apparently caused a 37-acre sinkhole in south Louisiana has asked the state insurance commissioner to make an insurance company pay out on a $50 million policy.

New York-based Liberty Insurance Underwriters Inc.’s policy was to kick in after other insurers paid more than $75 million in claims against Texas Brine LLC. That limit has been reached.

Mississippi River states prepare for an oil spill — not if, but when

If a train derailed near the Mississippi River between Wisconsin and Minnesota, spilling some 150,000 gallons of crude oil into the water, it would be a disaster of immense proportions.

A spill of such magnitude would require a huge response, one that would involve equipment and people from the federal government and agencies in three different states — Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa — La Crosse Fire Captain Jeff Schott said.

Pipeline’s path stirs opposition in Va., W.Va.

A proposed $5 billion pipeline that would deliver natural gas to the Southeast is finding pockets of opposition along its planned path in West Virginia and Virginia, where it would carve through two national forests.

The 550-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline is also seeing resistance in remote high-elevation sections of Virginia amid concerns it would traverse an environmentally sensitive landscape. Some landowners also object to plans for the pipeline to dissect their property.

Andover town officials talk with Kinder-Morgan over pipeline project 

Town officials are continuing to monitor the progress of the proposed Kinder-Morgan pipeline and even held a closed-door meeting with company officials to express their concerns about the path of the project.

Meanwhile, the company has made a “pre-filing” of the project with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has final say over the path of the pipeline. The pre-filing may lead to more community meetings, town officials said last week.

Michigan Resident Confronts Natural Gas Pipeline Surveyors With Shotgun

Michigan residents aren’t happy about a proposed natural gas pipeline running through their properties, and they aren’t letting work on the pipeline begin without a fight.

As the Flint Journal reports, some residents aren’t allowing representatives from Energy Transfer Partners, whose 800-mile ET Rover Pipeline is proposed to go through West Virginia, Ohio and Michigan, on their land to survey. Earlier this week, one man in Genesee County, MI noticed surveyors had showed up on his neighbor’s property and reportedly confronted them with a shotgun. The elderly neighbor “didn’t really want [the surveyors] on her property,” according to Mundy Township Sgt. Tom Hosie, who had been dispatched when the survey crew called the police after the confrontation, but she wasn’t going to physically stop them. When the man found out that the surveyors were next door, he confronted them.

More easements are filed as Enbridge delays project

Forty-five new easement agreements have been filed in Hubbard County over the Sandpiper oil pipeline as Enbridge announced Tuesday the project will likely be delayed a year into 2017.

Delays in the regulatory process have prompted the company to file a “material change” document that alerts stockholders to modifications in the project, something required under law by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Greenpeace irked by Dutch ties to arctic oil

Environmental advocacy group Greenpeace said it was frustrated the Dutch government was putting its oil interest above that of protecting the arctic.

Campaign director Joris Thijssen said a court in Amsterdam ruled in favor of letting oil from a field from the arctic Russian north land at the port of Rotterdam. The ruling, the environmental group said, was absurd.

Rosneft CEO Says He’ll Develop Arctic Oil With or Without Exxon

Bloomberg News interview with Igor Sechin, chief executive officer of OAO Rosneft, the world’s largest publicly traded oil producer by output, conducted Sept. 26 on a research vessel on the Kara Sea.

On exploration in Russia’s Arctic Kara Sea:

“The drilling at the structure Universitetskaya-1 is of exceptional significance, showing that Western Siberian deposits continue into the Arctic.”

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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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