Environmental Must-Reads – September 4, 2014


Oil and Gas Wastewater Pits Draw Fine for Toxic Releases

A commercial facility that disposes of oil and gas waste in Eastern Utah has been fined $50,000 for releasing excessive amounts of benzene and other volatile organic compounds without a state air emissions permit.

Rusty Ruby, compliance manager for Utah’s Division of Air Quality Compliance, said the agency doesn’t have “a lot of experience” when it comes to regulating waste pits because so little is known about them, a problem common in other states where hydraulic fracturing is generating vast quantities of contaminated waste water.

EPA May Force Drillers to Cut Methane Leaks, Chief Says

The Environmental Protection Agency is considering rules that would force oil and gas producers to cut methane emissions, its chief said, stepping up efforts to curb the most potent greenhouse gas linked to climate change.

Gina McCarthy, the EPA administrator, told investors at a New York forum today the agency will decide this year whether to issue regulations mandating emission cuts, or to rely only on voluntary steps.

Water access may stonewall shale boom, report finds

Energy producers face fierce competition for scarce water resources as they look to expand North America’s shale gas boom into regions that are facing stresses due to overuse or inadequate supplies of fresh water.

Concerns about the demand for and contamination of local groundwater have long plagued the shale gas industry, which has been shut out of places like Quebec and New York State due to environmental concerns, and faces fierce political opposition in jurisdictions like Colorado and New Brunswick.

Shell urges Obama to end 40-year oil export ban

The chief executive of Royal Dutch Shell has urged Barack Obama to lift America’s 40-year ban on oil exports.

Ben van Beurden told a conference in the US that the move would make the global energy system more stable.

Forum targeting proposed PennEast gas pipeline set in Lambertville

Two environmental groups are inviting area residents to learn more about a 30-inch pipeline proposed for this area that would carry natural gas extracted by fracking the Marcellus Shale near Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

The proposed pipeline would traverse four Pennsylvania counties before crossing the Delaware River at Holland Township, dropping south through western Hunterdon County to end in the Hopewell valley.

A Rush to Judgment on Fracking

Federal regulators announced last week that the US government would start issuing leases again next year to oil companies that intend to frack for fossil fuels on public land in California. This declaration by the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) coincided with the release of a new study that concluded that the direct environmental impacts from fracking in the state “appear to be relatively limited.” The study, however, also attached numerous caveats to its findings, readily acknowledging that the report was based on scant and incomplete data.

Study to look at financial impact of gas boom

Researchers are looking at whether money from the Marcellus Shale natural gas boom helps children and families in regions where companies are drilling.

Penn State University sociology professor Molly Martin said there is a unique opportunity to compare northeastern Pennsylvania communities that have experienced the boom during the last six years with nearby ones in New York state that haven’t.

Study to look at fracking’s impact on water supply

Lawmakers and others are expected to gather at the Capitol next week for an interim study on the impact fracking has on the state’s water supplies.

Rep. Steve Vaughan, R-Ponca City, requested the study.

Dickinson oil train bill heads to governor

A bill by Sacramento Assemblyman Roger Dickinson requiring more disclosure about crude oil rail shipments has passed the Legislature and has been sent to the governor for his consideration. The bill is the last of several steps taken by the Legislature this summer to deal with safety concerns about the growing phenomena of 100-car oil trains rolling through Sacramento and other California cities on their way to coastal and Central Valley refineries.

Aurora residents take issue with taller fracking towers near homes

Some Aurora residents are questioning the transparency of city staff over administrative waivers that may be granted to Houston-based oil and gas developer ConocoPhillips to build 30-foot-tall towers for hydraulic fracturing near residential developments.

ConocoPhillips has five or six well sites in city limits right now. Aurora city planner Stephen Rodriguez said that the five applications moving through the approval process represent a major spike in oil and gas development, especially considering that more applications are due in the coming months.

High-volume fracking to be banned in Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia will introduce legislation to prohibit high-volume hydraulic fracturing for onshore shale gas this fall, Energy Minister Andrew Younger said Wednesday.

The decision follows an independent panel review that recommended the government proceed slowly. Younger said the ban is not permanent, but would not say how long it will last. 

No More Fracking Tests in the Mountains

Testing for possible fracking in the mountains is now on hold.

The state says our mountain counties don’t hold enough natural gas to even continue testing, so for now, that takes fracking off the table.

County and town leaders say they’re relieved.

Ban fracking from national parks, say majority of UK public

Fracking should be completely banned from national parks, according to a strong majority of the UK public.

The controversial issue of shale gas exploration in some of the country’s most precious landscapes forced ministers in July to claim they were tightening planning guidance on drilling in national parks, but a new poll for the Guardian shows the public has been unmoved by the assurances.

Illegal siphon blamed for oil spill killing thousands of fish, animals

Authorities are blaming an illegal pipeline tap for an oil spill that polluted a Mexican river and killed an untold number of fish and animals.

The oil spill happened along a pipeline near the Arroyo Rio Hondo just outside Tierra Blanca in southern Veracruz on Tuesday.

PEMEX officials confirmed that hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil spilled into the water.

State officials assessing the damage, working to keep oil spill contained

In the wake of an oil spill in Tyler County, some of the damage includes dead wildlife and oil in the water. Texas Game Warden Jim Yetter said crews have been working around the clock to cleanup up the mess, in an effort to prevent further damage.

“The oil was floating on the water and they were using skimmers and booms to remove it,” said Yetter.

Impact of Gulf oil spill broader than predicted

The April 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill has had a broader impact on coral communities in the Gulf of Mexico than originally predicted, according to a team of researchers that includes Temple marine biologist Erik Cordes.

The researchers found two coral communities that were 22 kilometers from the stricken oil rig, which is 7 kilometers further away than a damaged community they had located in 2010, making the oil spill’s footprint wider than originally believed. They recently published their findings, “Footprint of Deepwater Horizon blowout impact to deep-water coral communities,” in the online Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Study finds wide gap in compensation from ’07 South Korean oil spill

Although nearly eight years have passed since a major oil spill in South Korea, compensation and recovery efforts appear to be far from satisfactory, and the affected communities continue to suffer the effects of the disaster.

UT Dallas’ Dr. Dohyeong Kim, second-year doctoral student Soojin Min and two Korean scholars have found a considerable gap between the economic loss claimed by residents and the compensation they received after the Hebei Spirit oil spill. Only 11 percent of the claims were approved for compensation.

Oil Spill Response in Seattle’s Salmon Bay

The U.S. Coast Guard and Washington State Department of Ecology continue to oversee the cleanup and investigate the cause of an oil spill that appeared earlier this week in the Ballard Mill Marina, on Salmon Bay, along the Lake Washington Ship Canal.

The Coast Guard and Ecology received reports Monday morning of oil, accompanied by strong petroleum odors in the waters. No one has come forward to take responsibility for the spill, and the Coast Guard has utilized the federal Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund to hire Global Diving and Salvage to conduct the cleanup.

BHP Billiton Seeks to Pump Oil From Mexican Waters

BHP Billiton Ltd. (BHP) is preparing to join the bidding to develop Mexico’s deep-water oil fields when the nation opens its offshore resources to foreign explorers next year.

The Australian mining company, which has been expanding its oil and natural gas business in North America, has been meeting with Mexican officials and state-owned Petroleos Mexicanos, known as Pemex, to gather data for assessing the best prospects, Tim Cutt, president of BHP’s petroleum and potash division, said in an interview at Bloomberg’s New York headquarters yesterday.

Bayou Corne resident celebrating life at the sinkhole

Texas Brine reports 86 homeowners who live in Bayou Corne have sold their homes to the company. Brine is responsible for the 35-acre sinkhole in Assumption Parish that resulted in evacuations on August 3, 2012.

Residents began the slow process of finding another place to live when the disaster happened. However, not everyone is moving.

Boardwalk to buy Chevron pipeline for $295 million

Boardwalk Pipeline Partners L.P. will spend $295 million to buy the Evangeline ethylene pipeline system from Chevron, Boardwalk announced Wednesday.

The Evangeline system is a 176-mile pipeline that transports 2.6 billion pounds of ethylene annually from Port Neches, Texas to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Ethylene is a petrochemical commonly used to make plastic.

Chris Christie in Mexico: Gov calls on Keystone pipeline to ‘be done today’

Gov. Chris Christie declared to an international audience tonight that the United States’ foreign policy begins with its neighbors to the north and south — not overseas.

The governor, delivering a policy speech about energy and the economics during his first day in Mexico, argued that “economic integration” between North American countries is key to bolstering each one’s own economy.

Shell Takes Steps to Renew Arctic Oil Effort

A major oil company wants to keep its options open for tapping polar reserves off the coast of Alaska.

“The Arctic in general is still a massive resource in terms of the potential that it has,” said Ben van Beurden, chief executive officer of Royal Dutch Shell. “We think we can do this responsibly,” he said Tuesday at an energy policy event hosted by Columbia University.

The world has spoken: Governments should create an Arctic sanctuary!

A global survey commissioned by Greenpeace has revealed that 74 per cent – nearly three quarters – of respondents agree or strongly agree that governments should create a protected area in the Arctic Ocean around the North Pole, providing a sanctuary for animals and other marine life. Another impressively high result shows that 71 per cent of those polled agree the entire Arctic Ocean should be free from oil drilling and other types of heavy industry.

Keeping Our Arctic Wilderness Wild

Fifty years ago, the battle to create the magnificent Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in far northeastern Alaska inspired Congress to approve America’s Wilderness Act, the law that has since protected millions of acres of some of our nation’s most iconic and cherished wild places.

The Arctic Refuge is, simply put, astonishing. Its snow-capped mountains, boreal forests and arctic tundra are home to more than 200 species of migratory birds from six continents and every state in our union, as well as caribou, brown bears, polar bears, wolverines, and wolves. Yet the heart of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the coastal plain that serves as a nursery and migration stop for hundreds of thousands of birds and caribou, has never received protection under the Wilderness Act.

A 50th Birthday Present for Wilderness Act: Keep Arctic Coastal Plain Wild

Fifty years ago today, my conservation hero and mentor Mardy Murie stood next to President Lyndon Johnson as he signed the Wilderness Act. Mardy had worked tirelessly to help pass the law, traveling across Alaska, testifying at hearings on Capitol Hill, and inviting lawmakers to come for tea and cookies on her ranch in Moose, Wyoming. Her efforts were fueled by a fierce belief that American society grows stronger when we protect wild refuges apart from civilization.

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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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