Environmental Must-Reads – October 7, 2014


Cuomo administration edited and delayed key fracking study

A federal water study commissioned by the Cuomo administration as it weighed a key decision on fracking was edited and delayed by state officials before it was published, a Capital review has found.

The study, originally commissioned by the state in 2011, when the administration was reportedly considering approving fracking on a limited basis, was going to result in a number of politically inconvenient conclusions for Governor Andrew Cuomo, according to an early draft of the report by the U.S. Geological Survey obtained by Capital through a Freedom of Information Act request.

With the Boom in Oil and Gas, Pipelines Proliferate in the U.S.

In the spring of 2012, about nine years after Melissa Owen and her husband purchased 640 acres of remote Arizona desert that they hoped to turn into a wildlife refuge, a representative from the energy giant Kinder Morgan knocked on their front door. The man said his company planned to build a natural gas pipeline through her property and hoped to get the Owens’ consent.

They didn’t give it, and the Kinder Morgan visit set off what Owen calls some of the most trying years of her life. Petitions to the pipeline company, local county officials, the U.S. government, and a variety of environmental groups failed to stop the pipeline from earning the necessary permits and gaining access to Owen’s land.

Fracking figures into WNC Senate race

A controversial natural gas extraction process that might never be used in Western North Carolina is becoming a big part of a mountain Senate race.

Democrat Jane Hipps of Waynesville has blasted incumbent Republican Sen. Jim Davis of Franklin for his support of hydraulic fracturing, also called fracking.

More oil trains heading to N.J.

The owner of the state’s largest refinery is investing heavily in rail transportation to haul oil across the country to its Linden plant, ensuring that more trains carrying millions of gallons of volatile Bakken crude will be traveling through New Jersey.

The Houston-based energy giant Phillips 66 recently opened a new rail facility at its Bayway Refinery and began accepting shipments of crude in August. The company intends to build its own rail shipping center near the abundant oil fields of North Dakota and plans to almost double its rail fleet to 3,700 tanker cars to bring more oil to its refineries.

Dominion prepares for project, while foes mount protest

As Dominion lays the groundwork for starting a multi-billion dollar project, local and regional citizens determined to stop it rallied Friday, Oct. 3 outside the Cove Point Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) Plant in Lusby.

The venue for the protest, prompted by the decision announced Monday, Sept. 29 by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to approve Dominion’s application to construct a liquefaction unit at the Cove Point facility, was the front yard of a family living directly across from the plant’s entrance.

20 Years, Yet EPA Still Fails to Protect Us From Polluting Incinerators

Joe Poole Lake is a popular destination for Dallas and Fort Worth residents looking for a weekend escape to the great outdoors. Lined with barbecue grills, hiking trails and sandy beaches, the 7,400-acre lake and its wooden welcome sign invite endless opportunities to relax and unwind. For Becky Bornhorst, a stay-at-home mom who never missed a PTA meeting, this lake was where she went to relax and create memories by sailing on a catamaran with her husband and two children and walking the family dog, a yellow lab named Nellie.

Six years ago, Becky was forced to find a new spot to make these memories after she became aware that levels of mercury, a potent neurotoxin, were increasing in the lake — an increase she blames on the industrial incinerators nearby.

Documents reveal Halliburton fracking proposal at Collier-Hogan oil well, shed new light on drilling

Although the company has long denied it fracked the controversial Collier-Hogan well, newly released documents show the Dan A. Hughes Co. received a “hydraulic fracture” proposal last October from the Halliburton Co.

The proposal is very similar to a controversial “acid stimulation” technique that a different company, Baker Hughes, proposed in December and eventually performed for Hughes at year’s end.

More first responders training to fight oil train accidents

Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway now has a trailer on standby for Seattle firefighters to use in case of an oil train or other hazardous railroad fire that happens in the city. It could be staged at the fire department.

This week behind the locomotive roundhouse at the Interbay yard, a different group of mostly Seattle firefighters will train each day on using the foam generating trailer that’s designed to put a blanket on any disaster in the city.

Disclosures from railroad on crude oil to be made public

Five months after the government ordered railroads to give states information on shipments of potentially explosive crude oil across borders, Pennsylvania and some counties have not released the disclosures to the public.

The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency signed confidentiality agreements with Norfolk Southern Railway Co. and CSX Transportation Inc., and told counties to do the same, promising to share the “sensitive” reports only with emergency officials, on a need-to-know basis.

Familiar line: 83-year-old Columbia pipeline goes unnoticed

Steve Doyle hasn’t attended any of the informational meetings for Dominion’s proposed natural gas pipeline, but he knows plenty about what it would be like to live near one.

A natural gas transmission line runs between his and a neighbor’s lots in a wooded area of southeast Augusta County inside the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest.

DNR still undecided on appeal of Lake Peigneur ruling

Attorneys for the state Department of Natural Resources have not yet decided whether to appeal a ruling by a New Iberia judge that halts the expansion of natural gas storage caverns on Lake Peigneur.

District Judge Keith Comeaux recently reversed a decision by the state DNR to grant a permit to Jefferson Island Storage & Hub for the proposed expansion of natural gas storage caverns on Lake Peigneur.

Judge rules new state law doesn’t stop levee authority from suing oil companies

A state judge in Baton Rouge ruled Monday that the law passed by the 2014 Legislature to halt the east bank levee authority’s controversial wetlands damage lawsuit against 90 oil, gas and pipeline companies does not apply to the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East because it is neither a state agency nor a local government.

And 19th Judicial District Court Judge Janice Clark said from the bench that she’s also likely to rule that the law, Act 544, violates the state Constitution’s “separation of powers” clause by usurping’s the court’s power in determining whether the levee authority can sue. She said she thinks the law may be unconstitutional for a second reason, but did not name it during the brief court hearing.

BP Still Trying to Undo Some Oil Spill Claims Payments to Nonprofits

BP Plc is seeking to undo payments to some victims of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico spill in a move opposing lawyers warn could open the floodgates to challenging hundreds of thousands of individual damage-claim awards.

BP, which is struggling to hold down the estimated $9.2 billion cost of its settlement of most private damage claims, is set to argue today before the U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans that the administrator of its settlement program misunderstood the deal. As a result, a handful of nonprofit agencies that didn’t suffer any losses from the spill were paid hundreds of thousands of dollars, BP contends.

BP Seeks Payment Changes That May Reignite Damages Fight

BP Plc (BP/) asked a U.S. appeals court to undo payments to some victims of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill in a move opposing lawyers said might open the floodgates to hundreds of thousands of individual damage-claim awards.

BP, which is struggling to hold down the estimated $9.2 billion cost of its settlement of most private damage claims, told the U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans today that the administrator of its settlement program misunderstood the deal. As a result, a handful of nonprofit agencies that didn’t suffer any losses from the spill were paid hundreds of thousands of dollars, BP contends.

Briefs urge Supreme Court to ditch BP appeal

Local chambers of commerce rebelled against their parent organization and a maligned claims administrator stood up for himself in new briefs filed with the U.S. Supreme Court in the BP oil spill case.

As the high court decides which cases to hear this year, groups with interest in BP’s appeal of its multibillion-dollar oil spill claims settlement have been weighing in.

Galveston Island project one of five to receive oil spill restoration funds

A Galveston Island project is one of five in the state set to receive funds as part of an oil spill restoration effort.

The Texas-based projects, totaling about $18 million, have been approved to begin to compensate the state for lost human use of natural resources resulting from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The three artificial reef and two state park projects are part of the latest round of early restoration led by state and federal Natural Resource Damage Assessment trustees.

Committee investigating Galveston Bay accident finds in pilot’s favor

Mike Pizzitola, a veteran Houston-based pilot involved in a ship collision that caused a major fuel spill in Galveston Bay, received no recommended disciplinary action Monday after a hearing convened to examine his role in the accident.

Instead, the Pilot Board Investigation Recommendation Committee found Pizzitola “acted with prudent seamanship” on a vote of 8-0. The committee, which includes pilots among its members, made that decision after hearing testimony from two witnesses: Pizzitola and a marine safety expert hired by Pizzitola. Its decision is not final, but Houston’s port commissioners routinely adopt committee recommendations, port records show. The same records show the group rarely has recommended any disciplinary action for a Houston pilot.

Barbers Point oil spill migrates two miles

An aerial assessment conducted Monday shows that fuel accidentally released into the waters off Barbers Point has migrated about two miles, but remains seven miles offshore.

It came from a hose at the Hawaii Independent Energy’s single-point mooring.

Response crews continue clean up of oil spill in Hawaii waters

Response crews continued Monday to work on cleaning up a spill of oily water from the ocean off Barbers Point Harbor in West Oahu, following the spill of a mix of ship fuel and water the day before from a loading buoy anchored offshore from Hawaii Independent Energy.

The thick part of the sheen is now about one-tenth of a square mile in size compared to three-quarters of a square mile yesterday, Hawaii Independent Energy officials said Monday.

Keystone Delay Won’t Slow Canada Pipelines, Kenny Says

Canada’s pipeline construction won’t be derailed by the lengthy U.S. review of TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL conduit, the head of the industry’s lobby group said.

“The trade relationship in energy between Canada and the U.S. will continue to be strong and important in both directions” even if Keystone’s expansion is rejected, Canadian Energy Pipeline Association President Brenda Kenny said in an interview yesterday in Bloomberg’s Ottawa newsroom.

New Pipelines Threaten U.S. Gulf Coast Oil Premium

U.S. Gulf crude is set to drop below international prices, after trading at a premium for the longest stretch in a year, as new pipelines bring additional supplies to the region.

Enbridge Inc. (ENB), Enterprise Products Partners LP (EPD) and Plains All American Pipeline LP (PAA) plan to start bringing oil from Canada, North Dakota and West Texas by the end of the year. That’s likely to push Light Louisiana Sweet, the benchmark for low-density, low-sulfur oil on the Gulf Coast, below Dated Brent, according to Turner, Mason & Co. It’s been at a premium since Sept. 22.

Activists chain themselves to fence to protest Enbridge’s Line 9 reversal

Three activists chained themselves to a fence at Enbridge’s Montreal headquarters Tuesday morning.

Alyssa Symons-Bélanger is one of the protesters.

She tied a heavy chain around her waist and a bicycle u-lock around her neck chaining her to a fence at Enbridge’s headquarters on Henri-Bourassa East.

Enbridge tells task force Mackinac pipeline is safe

Officials from a pipeline company are seeking to reassure Michigan officials who are conducting a safety review of lines including those running beneath the Straits of Mackinac.

The Michigan Petroleum Pipeline Task Force announced Monday it got an update last month about Enbridge Energy Partners LP’s Line 5. It includes two lines that run beneath the straits separating the state’s two peninsulas where Lakes Huron and Michigan converge.

Michigan reviews Enbridge oil pipelines

Michigan authorities said Canadian pipeline company Enbridge offered assurances two oil pipelines running under the Mackinac Straits are secured.

Line 5 of the Lakehead pipeline system splits into two 20-inch pipelines that carry the heavier grade of crude oil beneath the straits separating the Upper and Lower Michigan Peninsulas. They were installed in 1953.

U.S. Sanctions Cloud Oil Discovery In The Russian Arctic With Uncertainty

Exxon Mobil’s joint venture partner in the Arctic exploration program, Rosneft, recently confirmed the discovery of oil in Kara Sea (a part of the Arctic Ocean north of Siberia). The commercial viability of producing this oil under current market conditions is yet to be determined but the size of the find (estimated at around 750 million barrels of oil) seems to be huge. While this is great news for both Exxon and Rosneft, the current geopolitical scenario, where the U.S. and European companies are being increasingly banned from cooperating with Russian peers, clouds the development prospects of these reserves with uncertainty.

Countries Racing to Drill for Arctic Oil Could Spell Disaster for Environment

Thanks to one of the lowest ice levels on record this season, the Arctic’s oil is easier to reach than ever. That has carbon-hungry nations rushing to build the next generation of icebreakers to clear the way for massive armored tankers to transport the oil and gas that’s long been trapped below the frozen ocean.

But as the Arctic slowly opens up and untapped resources come within reach, the potential for environmental disaster is astronomical.

Arctic madness: oil majors plead for lower safety standards

Two oil companies planning to drill in remote Arctic waters, Shell and ConocoPhillips, are pleading with US regulators not to make them follow new guidelines proposed by the Interior Department.

These would require the companies to keep emergency spill response equipment close at hand and prohibit the use of chemical dispersants.

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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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