Environmental Must-Reads – October 8, 2014


How Oil & Gas Waste Became Exempt From Federal Regulation: A Timeline

In the small town of Nordheim, Texas, residents are trying to stop a commercial oil and gas waste facility proposed for a large plot of land less than a mile away. They worry that the Texas wind will carry toxic air emissions into the town and across the campus of the local school.

The residents’ effort is hampered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s decision in 1988 to classify most oil and gas waste as “non hazardous,” even though it contains chemicals, including benzene, that are known to cause health problems, The industry lobbied hard for the non-hazardous classification, arguing that the cost of treating the waste as hazardous would be exorbitant.

Under Pressure, Texas to Install Air Monitor in Heavily Fracked County

Backed by results of a recent air-quality study, mounting pressure from local officials, news reports and the simmering discontent of residents, Texas regulators have decided to install an air monitor in the heart of the Eagle Ford Shale.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) will install the air monitor in Karnes County, the epicenter of one of the fastest-growing drilling regions in the nation. More than 10,000 oil and gas wells have been sunk in the region since 2008, and residents have complained of breathing difficulties and other health problems.

‘Moment of Truth’ on Emissions

In March, the Obama administration issued a white paper as part of its Climate Action Plan entitled “Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions.” A big part of the strategy was built around cutting down on the methane emissions that result from oil and gas production, particularly the hydraulic fracturing method of extracting natural gas from the ground — a.k.a., fracking. In the white paper, the administration said that the Environmental Protection Agency would decide by the fall how best to go about it.

Methane emissions rise 135 percent on federal lands: Report

Methane emissions from fracking on federal lands more than doubled between 2008 and 2013, according to a report by left-leaning think tank Center for American Progress.

The report drew from Interior Department data to show that emissions of the potent but short-lived greenhouse gas rose 135 percent over the period. Much of the emissions were attributed to “venting” and “flaring” — meaning igniting excess natural gas produced at hydraulic fracturing sites.

Rail industry pushes feds to drop crude-oil reporting rule

Two railroad industry trade groups have quietly asked the U.S. Department of Transportation to drop its requirement that rail carriers transporting large volumes of Bakken crude oil notify state emergency officials.

The railroads have maintained that they already provide communities with adequate information about hazardous materials shipments and that public release of the data could harm the industry from a security and business standpoint. But they haven’t been successful in convincing numerous states or the federal government.

Railroad Groups Urge Withdrawal of Emergency Rule on Oil Train Reporting

Two railroad industry groups are asking the federal government to withdraw an emergency rule requiring their members to inform state emergency response agencies when trains carrying large amounts of highly flammable Bakken crude oil will pass through their jurisdictions.

The emergency rule, imposed by Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx on May 7, requires notification of authorities when trains carrying 1 million or more gallons — about 35 tank cars full — of Bakken crude oil will pass through their communities.

Canada train derailment forces evacuation of dozens

The Saskatchewan government said the derailment happened near the small community of Clair. About 50 people were evacuated.

Provincial officials said hazardous materials crews were en route. CN spokesman Jim Feeny said the fire is coming from petroleum distillate, which spilled from two of the derailed cars. Petroleum distillates are often made into diesel, kerosene, heating oil and jet fuel.

CN Train Crash Blaze Contained by Firefighters in Canada

Firefighters contained the blaze triggered by the derailment of a Canadian National Railway Co. (CNR) train carrying petroleum products and toxic material in a rural area in Saskatchewan yesterday.

While there were still flames at the site in the early evening, firefighters managed to “significantly diminish” the blaze and prevent it from spreading, Jim Feeny, a company spokesman, said by phone yesterday. No one was injured in the accident on the Canadian Prairies. Two of 26 derailed cars spilled petroleum distillate at the site, causing the fire, Feeny said.

Environmentalists Not Surprised, Just Disappointed to Hear Cuomo Meddled With Fracking Report

On Monday morning, Capital New York published an eye-popping report that suggests a federal fracking study commissioned by the Cuomo administration was edited, and later delayed, by the same administration when it became clear that study was going to “result in a number of politically inconvenient conclusions for Governor Andrew Cuomo.”

To environmentalists who have observed the Cuomo Administration over the past four years, the news that wasn’t particularly shocking. “It’s not surprising,” Chris Amato, staff attorney for Earthjustice says of the report that officials from the Department of Environmental Conservation meddled with the U.S. Geological Survey’s report.

DEP seeks $4.5 million record fine against EQT for impoundment leak

State regulators are aiming to levy a record fine against another shale gas company for leaks in its wastewater ponds.

Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection announced Tuesday that it has filed a civil complaint, seeking to fine Pittsburgh-based EQT Production Co. a record $4.5 million for a 2012 impoundment leak in Tioga County. If the state Environmental Hearing Board approves the fine, it would be the largest given to a shale gas driller in the state.

Wisconsin county shuts down frac-sand operation ‘running wild’

A Wisconsin frac-sand mine that was “running wild” and dumping polluted wastewater into an unlined pond against regulations has been shut down by Trempealeau County.

The Guza Pit, four miles south of Independence, Wis., had been operating without a permit and was shut down Monday with a “stop-work” order from county regulators. It could face fines when the situation is sorted out, said Kevin Lien, who heads the county’s zoning office.

More fracking pollution woes in California

All those warm-n-fuzzy fossil fuel industry ads showing clean-cut techs in lab coats with clipboards may play well on your plasma screen, but reality is a little different.

Rather than being upstanding corporate citizens looking out for the country’s best interests, some energy companies operating in California have been illegally injecting huge quantities of oil and gas wastewater into central California aquifers that supply drinking water and farming irrigation.

Most back drill ban

Most New Yorkers support the state’s ongoing moratorium on natural gas hydrofracking, with people worried about potential damage to air and water widely outnumbering those who see added jobs and taxes as an economic boost, according to a poll released Monday by a prominent environmental group.

Support for the moratorium, which will remain in place unless and until the state completes its six-year review of a potential environmental plan that could allow hydrofracking, was favored by a 79 to 17 percent margin, according to the poll done for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Study: Sand mining for fracking operations could impact region’s water, air quality

Sand mining operations hundreds of miles away in Minnesota and Wisconsin could affect water and air quality in western Pennsylvania, according to a recent report by the Civil Society Institute’s Boston Action Research, a Boston human rights advocacy group.

What makes the findings of the report significant to the western Pennsylvania region is the sand itself. Frac sand, used in oil and natural gas drilling, is a high-purity quartz sand with very durable and very round grains, according to geology.com. It cannot be crushed.

EQT faces charges in 2012 spill at Tioga County drilling site

The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office has filed a criminal complaint against Downtown-based EQT Corp. regarding an incident in 2012 in which flowback water leaked from a shale drilling site in Tioga County.

Flowback is water containing sediment, metals and salt that returns to the surface after hydraulic fracturing.

Plan would limit fracking near western Md. lake

A proposed management plan for the Deep Creek watershed seeks to limit hydraulic fracturing for natural gas near Maryland’s largest freshwater lake.

The plan presented Tuesday to the Garrett County Commissioners would prohibit wellheads in more than 41,000 acres around Deep Creek Lake. The watershed comprises about 10 percent of the county.

Endangered species in Eagle Ford Shale gets help from UT group

Few people have heard of the spot-tailed earless lizard, once common in South Texas.

But the rare lizard’s likely habitat includes large swaths of the Eagle Ford Shale, the prolific oil and gas field south of San Antonio. A 2010 petition by an environmental group to list the spot-tailed earless lizard as a federally protected species is hanging in limbo.

Environmental groups call for BLM to create comprehensive leasing plan

A group of environmentalists are calling for the Bureau of Land Management to compose a comprehensive leasing plan for the lower San Juan Basin in areas near Chaco Canyon National Historic Park.

“We’re not against oil and gas drilling, but it has to be done properly,” said Bruce Gordon, president of EcoFLight, during a flight over the park and its surroundings on Monday morning.

Federal commission approves gas project

Federal regulators say construction can start immediately on a methane gas storage project next to Seneca Lake that has galvanized opposition from many wine and tourism businesses across the Finger Lakes in upstate New York.

The Sept. 30 decision by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) represents a major breakthrough for Houston-based Crestwood Midstream. The company has been waging a five-year campaign for permission to convert long-abandoned lakeside salt caverns into a regional storage hub for both methane gas and liquid petroleum gas, or LPG, from fracking operations in Pennsylvania.

BP oil spill claims administrator defends actions in U.S. Supreme Court filing

Lafayette attorney Patrick Juneau is defending his role administering Gulf of Mexico oil spill claims in a filing with the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing he has “faithfully processed” awards according to rules spelled out in BP’s settlement with business and property owners.

BP has blamed Juneau, the court-appointed settlement administrator, for failing to correctly interpret the settlement. In September, the company asked a federal judge to remove Juneau as administrator of damage claims, saying he failed to disclose a conflict of interest.

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.

Investigator Freeh wants fraudulent BP claim repaid

Former FBI Director Louis Freeh is asking a federal judge to make another oil spill claimant pay $239,000 back to BP for what Freeh calls a fraudulent claim.

Less than a month after Slidell’s Casey Thonn was charged with federal wire fraud for his allegedly bogus shrimping claim, Freeh, the court-appointed fraud investigator for the oil spill claims settlement, says Jason Zirlott of Fowl River, Ala., lied about his and his company’s shrimping losses.

Gov. Scott: Florida’s $88 Million Oil Spill Restoration Good to Go

Florida has the OK for the $88 million, third, final and largest set of Florida Gulf Coast early restoration projects, Gov. Rick Scott announced Tuesday. The projects have been approved by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill Natural Resource Damage Assessment Trustees.

The $88 million represents 28 projects spread among many communities along the Panhandle. In addition, two U.S. Department of the Interior projects will begin at Gulf Islands National Seashore in Escambia County and total approximately $15 million.

BP oil-spill drama ‘Deepwater Horizon’ gets a release date

“Deepwater Horizon,” the forthcoming BP oil-spill drama that has Mark Wahlberg set to star, now also has a release date. Lionsgate this week announced that the film, from director J.C. Chandor (“All is Lost”), will land in theaters on Sept. 30, 2016, nearly six and a half years after the spill, according to Variety.

Industry says Keystone delay won’t hurt Canada’s pipeline construction

Canadian pipeline construction won’t be slowed down as a result of the lengthy review process for Keystone XL, an industry leader said.

Brenda Kenny, president of the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association, said energy companies are planning C$650 billion ($584 billion) of natural resources investments in the next 10 years, including pipelines, according to Bloomberg News.

Keystone Be Darned: Canada Finds Oil Route Around Obama

So you’re the Canadian oil industry and you do what you think is a great thing by developing a mother lode of heavy crude beneath the forests and muskeg of northern Alberta. The plan is to send it clear to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast via a pipeline called Keystone XL. Just a few years back, America desperately wanted that oil.

Then one day the politics get sticky. In Nebraska, farmers don’t want the pipeline running through their fields or over their water source. U.S. environmentalists invoke global warming in protesting the project. President Barack Obama keeps siding with them, delaying and delaying approval. From the Canadian perspective, Keystone has become a tractor mired in an interminably muddy field.

Pipeline growth climbing to ferry oil & NGLs to markets

More oil is flowing through the nation’s network of pipelines as it expands to accommodate a flood of crude coming out of U.S. wells today.

Some 192,400 miles of pipelines ferried crude oil, refined petroleum products and natural gas liquids across the country in 2013, marking a 9.3 percent increase in overall mileage from 2008, according to a new report from the Association of Oil Pipe Lines and the American Petroleum Institute.

Treefarm that fought Suncor over pipeline wins $866,000 jury verdict

A Colorado tree farm has won an $866,000 jury verdict against oil refinery operator Suncor Energy in Weld County after a dispute over Suncor’s 10-inch pipeline under the farm’s property.

Suncor officials on Tuesday said they will appeal.

Arborland Nursery owners Jan and Gene Kammerzell argued that Suncor’s efforts to expand its right of way over the pipeline to 40 feet, cutting down 160 trees, violated their property rights.

What is the condition of the oil pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac? Answer can be hard to find

A lot of us are curious about the oil pipeline running through the Straits of Mackinac.

Michigan Radio’s M I Curious is a news experiment where we investigate questions submitted by the public about our state and its people.

As part of our M I Curious project, Justin Cross asked Michigan Radio this question:

What is the status of the aged Enbridge oil pipeline running through Lake Michigan at the Straits of Mackinac?  

Oil prices dive; Arctic projects could be at risk

North Sea crude trading prices are now the lowest since June 2012.

On Monday morning, the price had reached $92 per barrel, according to Bloomberg. Oil prices remaining below $100 per barrel will mean several development projects no longer being profitable and cuts could be bigger.

Russia’s Gazprom ready to help oil giant Rosneft with Arctic drilling — media

Russian gas giant Gazprom is ready to help the state-owned oil major Rosneft with drilling works in the Kara Sea in 2015, Bloomberg reported Tuesday quoting Gazprom Deputy CEO Alexander Medvedev as saying.

In September, Deputy Energy Minister Kirill Molodtsov said Russia has platforms for Arctic shelf drilling, including the Arkticheskaya platform operated by Gazflot, Gazprom’s unit for offshore projects.

Fukushima No. 1 plant workers kept in the dark over hazard pay

Almost a year after Japan pledged to double hazard pay at the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, workers are still in the dark about how much extra they are getting paid — if anything — for cleaning up the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.

Under pressure to improve working conditions at the crippled Fukushima plant after a series of radioactive water leaks last year, Tokyo Electric Power Co. President Naomi Hirose promised in November to double the hazard pay the utility allocates to its subcontractors for plant workers. That would have increased the amount each worker is supposed to earn to about ¥19,000 ($180) a day in hazard pay.

Tsunami, not Quake, Seen as Main Cause of Fukushima Accident

Japan’s nuclear regulator said Wednesday that the tsunami following the March 11, 2011, earthquake–not the quake itself–was the main cause of the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

The conclusion matters because of the implications for other nuclear-power plants. Virtually all of Japan is prone to earthquakes, but some places are relatively protected from tsunamis. Currently all of the nation’s 48 reactors are offline, and the government is weighing whether to restart some next year.

Hokkaido nuclear plant has small fire; utility says no radiation leaked

A small fire occurred Sunday at the Tomari nuclear power plant in western Hokkaido, operator Hokkaido Electric Power Co. said, adding that there was no radiation leak.

According to the utility, smoke rose from one of the buildings in the compound in an area that is separate from the plant’s three reactor buildings, at around 2:45 p.m. Sunday.

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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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