Environmental Must-Reads – September 22, 2014


Thirsty wells: Fracking consumes billions of gallons of water

Drillers in Ohio have used more than 4 billion gallons of water to frack horizontal shale wells since 2011. That’s a lot of water. Enough to fill one two-liter soda bottle for every person on the planet; or in terms that motorists in shale country can relate to, 800,000 tanker-loads of water.

Shale gas extraction issues go beyond fracking

Ask oil and gas industry advocates, environmentalists and regulators about the biggest issues facing shale gas development, and none are likely to cite the possibility of fracking fluids traveling up thousands of feet of rock into groundwater aquifers as their top concern.

There’s surface spills, transportation accidents, leaks in holding tanks and impoundments — all of these have much more potential to pollute groundwater.

Quakes, methane production linked

The injection of huge amounts of wastewater – a byproduct of methane gas production – deep underground has led to a dramatic increase in the number of earthquakes in the Raton Basin since 2001, according to a study published recently in a scientific journal.

In the 30 years leading up to the wastewater injection, the basin straddling the border of Colfax County in New Mexico and Colorado was seismically quiet, with just one significant earthquake. But since energy companies expanded coal-bed methane operations in 1999, seismic activity has gone way up, according to the study.

Permit Allows Fracking Waste Storage in Backyards, Community Fights Back

Nine East Smithfield Township natural gas leaseholders have banded together to fight a new permit from the state Department of Environmental Protection that allows more than 700,000 gallons of toxic waste to be stored in backyards for years.

Driven with frustration by Chesapeake Energy and DEP’s lack of communication to the township, a nine-member group of residents, represented by spokesman Dick Stedge, formed and filed an appeal to a WMGR123 permit approved in March.

Tourism in SC could suffer from sonic blasts in ocean

The prospect of dead dolphins floating in the ocean off South Carolina is an important reason that Palmetto state residents should oppose plans to search for oil and gas along the south Atlantic coast, environmentalists said Thursday night.

But people also should realize the risk to coastal tourism, a multibillion dollar industry in South Carolina, according to a national environmental organization that is leading the charge against offshore gas and oil exploration.

Big farms, frac sand mines could feel force of judge’s groundwater ruling

A recent legal decision is likely to significantly change how Wisconsin manages its groundwater and will especially affect the state’s sandy counties where powerful wells are irrigating potato fields, servicing giant dairies, and providing water critical for the state’s frac sand mining boom.

Two weeks ago, Administrative Law Judge Jeffrey Boldt approved the state Department of Natural Resources’ issuance of permits for a large and controversial dairy farm in Central Wisconsin. But he also reduced the amount of water the farm could pump from proposed high-capacity wells and required the DNR to consider the impact of the withdrawals in conjunction with other, nearby wells — a concept known as cumulative impacts.

Ohio Community Protests Fracking Wastewater Zoning

Fracking wastewater is trucked into Ohio from Pennsylvania, processed and injected into deep wells. The Allegheny Front’s Julie Grant reports that many locals worry about earthquakes and water contamination, and argue that the state rules override citizen’s concerns about waste water well siting.

Too close for comfort

A new study led by researchers at Yale University says that living closer to an active natural gas well, including hydraulic fracking wells, could lead to an increase in skin and respiratory conditions.

In a paper published Sept. 10 in the peer-reviewed Environmental Health Perspectives, a journal of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the team detailed results from surveys with 492 people in 180 randomly selected households with ground-fed wells in an area of active natural gas drilling in Washington County, Penn.

Range Resources to pay $4.15M penalty

Range Resources will pay a $4.15 million penalty to settle violations related to six Marcellus Shale gas drilling and fracking wastewater impoundments in Washington County that contaminated soil and groundwater, state officials said.

It’s the largest fine ever imposed against a Marcellus Shale gas drilling company, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

725-mile power line project draws skeptics in N.J.

Proponents of a massive upgrade to the regional power grid say it could eventually lead to lower electric rates for customers in New Jersey, though others say it comes with serious environmental costs.

PPL Corp., an electricity distribution company, has proposed stringing a regional transmission line 725 miles across northern Pennsylvania to bring electricity into New Jersey, New York and Maryland.

The company says the 500-kilovolt line, which would pass through the Marcellus shale formation in Pennsylvania, could trigger construction of new power plants that would burn the cheap natural gas readily available in that region.

Mich. Pipeline Leak Is Political Fodder in Heated House Race

If opponents of incumbent Congressman Fred Upton (R-Mich) have their way, a natural gas pipeline leak that displaced 500 people earlier this week could take center stage in one of the nation’s most heated Congressional races.

The contest for Michigan’s 6th congressional district pins fossil fuel champion Upton, a 14-term U.S. Representative and chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, against Democratic newcomer Paul Clements, a political science professor at Western Michigan University and an advocate for climate action.

Pros and Cons of Measure P Debated

The opposing camps behind Measure P agreed at a debate this week that the drilling ban would mean “substantial change” for Santa Barbara County — but how each side envisions “change” remains a divisive matter. Dave Davis, president of the initiative-backing Community Environmental Council, played for the “Yes” side against former School Board president and Libertarian Lanny Ebenstein, who swung for the “No” team.

Proposal for natural gas drilling under Ohio River sparks citizen concerns

Citizen groups on both sides of the Ohio River sent a letter Sept. 17 to West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin expressing their concerns and opposition with the pending proposal that would allow natural gas drilling under the Ohio River.

The state Division of Natural Resources, under the West Virginia Department of Commerce, began taking bids for natural gas drilling under the Ohio River in Pleasants, Marshall and Wetzel counties on Aug. 13. The bidding deadline is Sept. 25.

Obama Urged to Plug Methane Leaks to Meet Climate Goal

Environmental groups are asking the Obama administration to beef up its climate plan by targeting methane leaks in the web of valves, pipes and pumps drillers use to produce and deliver natural gas.

While companies have a vested interest in keeping methane bottled up on its way to customers, some gas inevitably seeps out. That’s worrisome because methane — the primary component of gas — is 25 times more potent than carbon at trapping heat.

PRESSURE BUILDING : Denton’s long-brewing gas well debate coming to a head

One City Council member has dubbed it a universal failure.

Perhaps the biggest showdown on Denton’s November ballot — a proposed ban on hydraulic fracturing in the city limits — came after a culmination of failures by past city leaders, state legislators and regulators, housing developers, the oil and gas industry, and home buyers themselves. Council member Dalton Gregory said he came to that conclusion after a recent visit to a new neighborhood being built next to existing gas well pad sites.

Russel Honoré Goes One on One With Al Gore (Video)

Russel Honoré is known to most New Orleanians for his role as the commander of Joint Task Force Katrina and the iconic “guns down” order. In the years since the storm, the Lieutenant General retired and shifted his focus to the environment. Going green led to some airtime with with America’s most high profile eco-warrior, former Vice President Al Gore.

During the interview, Honoré discusses his new grassroots movement, the Green Army. The retired general also talks a lot about Louisiana specific issues like the Bayou Corne sinkhole in Assumption Parish, bad air in St. Bernard Parish, and the release of injection fluids into the gulf.

New indictment against former BP executive

A federal grand jury has issued a new indictment against a former BP executive charged with obstructing a congressional investigation into the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Friday’s superseding indictment makes adjustments to existing obstruction of Congress and false statement charges against David Rainey, who faces a March 9 trial. It follows months of appeals over whether Rainey could be tried on the obstruction charge. Ultimately, an appeals court said that he could.

BP says oil spill trial’s penalty phase should not be cut short

BP told a federal judge in New Orleans this week that it would need at least three weeks to defend itself during a trial to set penalties stemming from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The oil giant said his filing was a response to suggestions that the trial may be cut short, and that doing so would be “premature at this time.”

Oil spill research grant program gearing up

The National Academy of Sciences expects to start taking applications this fall for the $500 million assigned to the 30-year research program set up as a result of criminal settlements from the 2010 BP oil spill.

The first set of applications was announced this past week as part of the release of a “vision document” outlining the program’s first five years.

BP Oil Spill Claim Payment Statistics for Hillsborough County, Florida

4,201 Hillsborough County (Tampa, Plant City, Temple Terrace) businesses and individuals have filed economic loss claims with the BP Deepwater Horizon Court Supervised Settlement Program (CSSP). The CSSP began receiving claims on June 4, 2012 and will likely continue at least into the Spring of 2015. As of the date of publishing listed above, the precise BP oil spill claim filing deadline has yet to be set. For this reason, all businesses in Hillsborough County are encouraged to undergo an eligibility evaluation as soon as possible.

Of the 4,201 Hillsborough County claims, 178 have been paid to-date for a total of $35,000,000, resulting in an average claim value of $197,000. Assuming all 4,201 claims are paid, Hillsborough businesses will receive $827,000,000 over the next two years.

Coast Guard Investigates Oil Spill From World War II-Era Ship at Fisherman’s Wharf

A cleanup effort by multiple agencies is underway for an oil spill from a World War II-era ship that now serves as a tourist attraction in San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf.

The United States Coast Guard and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife are investigating the fuel spill that occurred Saturday near Pier 45.

Alberta’s New U.S. Envoy: Oil Train Disaster Would Spur Keystone XL

When asked what it will take to get the northern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline approved, Alberta’s new envoy to Washington, former Alberta MP Rob Merrifield, had a very direct response:

“It will take a potential — which is devastating — Lac-Mégantic experience in America. [That] would tip it and the Democrats would have no choice and would bail on the President on this one.”

KXL Fight Is Boots on the Ground vs. Big Oil Money: ‘The Boots Are Winning’

Friday, September 19 marks six years that climate activists have blocked TransCanada’s attempts to build the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.

Opposition to the pipeline has galvanized a national movement that unites environmentalists, indigenous groups, farmers, ranchers, and landowners; since 2008, more than 2,000 activists have gotten arrested in tar sands protests and over 50,000 have rallied against the proposal in Washington, D.C.

State Dep’t Draws Fire for Allowing Tar Sands Pipeline Detour

A Canadian pipeline company’s plan to bring more tar sands oil into the United States without waiting for a federal permit is drawing resistance from environmentalists who say it’s skirting the law.

Last week, 18 green groups sent a letter to the U.S. State Department asking the agency to “take immediate action to halt this illegal increase in tar sands crude oil imports until it completes its ongoing environmental review.” Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) expressed similar concerns in a separate letter to the agency.

Pipeline report ignores preserved farmland in Lancaster County

How does Williams Partners plan to address the anxiety it has caused by proposing to route a natural gas pipeline through previously inviolable preserved farmland in Lancaster County?

You don’t get any indication from the Houston-based company’s latest report to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Williams barely mentions preserved farmland.

Enbridge crews begin restoration work

Work on the new Enbridge pipeline in St. Clair County is complete.

Crews remain in the area to complete land restoration, which will continue until winter, said Jason Manshum, an Enbridge spokesman.

Restoration crews have already made it to Melissa Woodman’s house, who lives on Lost Deer Lane in St. Clair Township, near the Enbridge pipeline.

Exxon to halt Russian drilling in face of U.S. sanctions

Exxon Mobil Corp. has announced it will wind down its drilling operations in the arctic Kara Sea after Western sanctions took aim at Russia’s energy industry.

Exxon’s partnership with Russian state-owned Rosneft has been in question recently as the U.S. and European Union have stepped up economic sanctions in the wake of rising tensions in Ukraine. Exxon’s venture with Rosneft had been unaffected by previous rounds of sanctions, but last week the U.S. handed down a two-week deadline to cease operations.

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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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