Environmental Must-Reads – September 10, 2013


New York High Court To Hear Cases Determining Future of Hydraulic Fracturing

The New York State Court of Appeals has announced that it will hear a challenge to municipal bans on hydraulic fracturing operations in two separate cases. The announcement comes three months after a ruling issued by a midlevel appellate court in which a four-judge panel unanimously held that municipalities can effectively “zone out” oil and gas operations by passing zoning ordinances and that the state’s Oil Gas and Solution Mining Law (OGSML) cannot be invoked to nullify such local bans.

Fracking’s Epicenter: New York and Its Moratorium

In the summer of 2008, David Patterson, who took over as New York governor following the ouster of Elliot Spitzer, imposed a two-year moratorium on fracking within the state’s borders. The state’s environmental agency then started an intensive study of the environmental and public health concerns regarding fracking.

Could This Tiny New Mexico County Rewrite Fracking Rules?

Along New Mexico’s southeastern border sits the Permian Basin, a shale play rich in oil and natural gas. There’s nothing particularly distinct about New Mexico’s approach to fracking —the somewhat controversial practice which is making these resources available for the first time.

But earlier this year, Mora County—population 4,700 —became the first in the country  to ban fracking in any form.

Chesapeake drops fight to extend 200 gas leases

A law firm representing landowners in southern New York said Chesapeake Energy has dropped its two-year legal battle to force an extension of 200 expired gas-drilling leases covering 13,000 acres.

Energy Regulators Begin Review Of Massive Gas Plan

Connecticut regulators were set to begin a week-long series of hearings to determine who will pay for an ambitious multimillion-dollar plan by the state’s three utilities to connect about 280,000 new customers to natural gas.

Exploding Cornfield: Natural Gas Pipeline Turns into Fireball on Farm

On Monday, August 12th, around 11:15pm, in Erie, Illinois, a cornfield exploded, shooting flames  upwards of 300 feet into the air and leaving a crater 15 feet deep, 20 feet wide, and 40 feet long in the field. The explosion was visible for 20 miles. 80 families were evacuated from their homes. Luckily, no one was hurt.

Gulf well secured several weeks after blow out

A natural gas well that blew out in the Gulf of Mexico in July has been plugged, though it may be a long time before it is permanently killed, federal regulators confirmed Monday.

BP makes discovery with Nile Delta’s deepest well ever

BP is touting as significant a deep-water gas discovery in the East Nile Delta off Egypt.

The well, in 2,129 feet of water and reaching a total depth of roughly 22,966 feet, is the deepest well ever drilled in the Nile Delta, a water formation in northern Egypt where the Nile River spreads out and drains into the Mediterranean Sea.

Honore backs lawsuit against oil companies

The Army general who won acclaim for helping restore order in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina is backing a flood control board’s lawsuit against oil and gas companies.

BP Texas refinery neighbors seek billions at toxin trial

BP Plc (BP/) faces the first of almost 48,000 toxic exposure claims from neighbors of a Texas refinery who say they’ll give the billions of dollars in punitive damages they’re seeking to charity if they win at trial.

Judge asks to expand probe into oil spill claims payment program

A federal judge responded to an investigation into BP claims fraud by asking former FBI Director Louis Freeh to expand his probe of the oil spill claims payment program.

Louisiana Governor Jindal Not Buying BP Spin on Gulf Coast Impacts

Have environmental priorities finally trumped extreme right wing politics in the deep south?

Louisiana’s Republican governor Bobby Jindal has heard enough from oil giant BP, taking them to task recently for destroying sensitive coastal areas during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

Rebel Claimants in BP Spill Settlement Get Expedited Hearing

A U.S. appeals court will hold an expedited hearing for a small group of claimants in a Gulf spill settlement with BP Plc, with oral arguments set for the week of Nov. 4, the court said on Friday.

Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Research Symposium in Europe

The Technical University of Hamburg at Harburg (TUHH), Germany hosted the 1st Hamburg Symposium on Deep-Sea Oil Spills on Wednesday September 4, 2013.  The conference brought together North American and European expertise to improve quick and effective response to future oil spills and minimize their environmental impact.

South Mississippi residents accused of fraud in oil-spill recovery money

Three South Mississippi residents are charged in separate indictments alleging they made false statements to receive thousands of dollars in oil-spill recovery money.

NOAA Identifies Lurking Environmental Threats

A new NOAA report that examines national oil pollution threat from shipwrecks has been presented to the U.S. Coast Guard. With as many as 20,000 recorded shipwrecks in NOAA’s database, the May 2013 report finds that just 36 sunken vessels scattered across the U.S. seafloor could pose an oil pollution threat to the nation’s coastal marine resources. Of those, 17 were recommended for further assessment and potential removal of both fuel oil and oil cargo. Based on vessel contents, condition, environmental sensitivity, and other factors, NOAA has determined that six vessels are high priority for a Most Probable (10%) discharge, and 36 are high priority for a Worst Case Discharge (Table ES-1).

Shell to Negotiate With Nigerians Over Oil Spill

Shell officials on Monday began talks in Nigeria’s southern city of Port Harcourt with representatives for the Bodo community on compensation and cleanup five years after one of the worst oil spills in Nigeria’s history.

Nigeria becoming World’s 1st Failed Petrostate?

If it is not common for insurgencies to telegraph their intentions in advance, as it can provide defenders with valuable early intelligence, then Nigeria’s Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta is no ordinary insurgency. MEND has given the nation’s second largest oil producing company, Chevron Nigeria Ltd until 1 October to evacuate the Escravos Terminal and Tank Farm facility or face imminent attack.

Sept. 10 drill to test oil spill readiness in San Juan Islands

The Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) will test how well BP Shipping can mount a rapid, aggressive and well-coordinated response on Sept. 10 to a simulated collision and oil spill near the entrance to Rosario Strait.

No oil will be discharged during the large-scale equipment deployment exercise. Ecology representatives will observe and evaluate the planned drill near Lopez Island.

Concern growing over Sept-Îles oil spill

An oil spill that happened more than a week ago in Sept-Îles might be far more serious than first reported.

Quebec Environment Minister Yves-François Blanchet visited the area Sunday while cleanup crews tried to contain a large slick before tides and winds take the oil out into the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Ark. asks that pipeline lawsuit stay alive

Arkansas’ attorney general has filed papers in federal court saying a lawsuit against the operator a pipeline that soiled the town of Mayflower should be allowed to proceed.

Meetings set for residents along Enbridge oil pipeline route

Residents in the path of Enbridge Energy Co.’s crude oil pipeline running through northeastern Oklahoma will get to have their say soon while the Canadian firm plans for construction to start next month.

Canada sees path for Keystone but won’t talk details

Canada will do more in the global fight against climate change as the nation develops its vast oil sands resources and tries to win backing for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, the country’s energy minister said on Monday.

Two months after Lac-Mégantic tragedy, first signs of town cleanup appear

With piles of rubble and thousands of tonnes of heavily contaminated soil remaining in downtown Lac-Mégantic, Que., the first signs of the town’s cleanup are appearing two months after a runaway oil train devastated the area.

Oil Companies Cool to Drilling Off Alaska’s Arctic Shores

So far, Shell (NYSE: RDS-A  ) has spent $5 billion on its Arctic offshore drilling program. That investment has yet to turn up any oil, or deliver any returns to its investors. It’s also not likely to deliver anything in the near future as the oil exploration company currently has its exploration program on pause after enduring a number of equipment problems. In fact, neither Shell nor its industry peers currently have much interest in pursuing oil off Alaska’s arctic shores.

Shell fined $1.1 million for polluting Arctic air during error-plagued drilling efforts

In the words of then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Shell completely “screwed up” its efforts to tap Arctic oil reserves last year. A series of accidents in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, off the North Slope of Alaska, led to the abandonment of drilled wells and damage to both of the company’s Alaskan exploratory oil rigs, one of which ran aground. Those blunders prompted the Obama administration to bar Shell from the region this year. They also claimed the job of Shell Vice President David Lawrence, who once described drilling in the Alaskan Arctic as “relatively easy.”

Japan: No Indictments Over Fukushima Accident

Japanese prosecutors have decided not to indict former officials of Tokyo Electric Power, the operator of the tsunami-stricken nuclear power plant at Fukushima, over their roles in the accident there in March 2011, Japan’s public broadcaster reported Monday.

Fukushima victims angered at decision not to prosecute officials

Survivors of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident expressed disappointment and anger at the announcement Sept. 9 by the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office that it will not seek to indict any high-ranking government or Tokyo Electric Power Co. officials connected with the meltdown.

Fukushima: two years and counting

The problems created by the meltdown of three nuclear reactors at the Fukushima plant in March 2011 are getting worse. Last month 300 tonnes of radioactive water leaked and this continues. Storage of the contaminated water is a problem. The Japanese government admits the situation is getting worse and promises to spend US$473 million to build an ice wall to contain the contaminated water; cold comfort to those who have lost their homes and livelihoods. Is there an end in sight? The IAEA estimates it will take 40 years to bring the process under control, others argue it could take a 100.

China urges Japan to effectively deal with Fukushima accident fallout

China on Monday urged Japan to take strong measures to effectively deal with the aftermath of the March 2011 nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi power station.

Japan Forms Team to Oversee Fukushima Decomission, Toxic Water

Japan’s government formed a team to oversee decommissioning and water contamination measures at the wrecked Fukushima nuclear power plant northeast of Tokyo.

Canadian Scientists Are Monitoring the Coast for Fukushima Fallout

This week, Japanese authorities released terrifying new information about radiation leaking into the Pacific Ocean from a damaged nuclear plant in Fukushima. On Sunday, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) said radiation levels near a water storage tank at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant were 18 times higher than previously reported—enough to kill a person in a few hours. Then on Wednesday, radiation levels jumped another 20 percent in the same spot. And most recently, South Korea banned all fish imports from the Fukushima region.

Virginia’s Fukushima

Japanese authorities continue to dismiss widespread concerns about the Fukushima nuclear disaster response, despite a worsening situation that has seen upwards of 80,000 gallons of radioactive groundwater seep into the ocean on a daily basis. The water is pumped through the crippled reactor to avoid a total meltdown, after which it is funneled into massive storage tanks located on the tsunami-ravaged site. TEPCO, who was placed in charge of the cleanup after years of ignored safety warnings, recently disclosed that many of the tanks are leaking water, despite assurances to the contrary in the recent past.

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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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