Environmental Must-Reads – September 5, 2014


Highest Court to Weigh in on a Dispute Over Water

Steve Lipsky’s tainted water well has already stirred a national debate about the impacts of oil and gas production. Now it stars in a free-speech dispute that has landed in the state’s highest court — the biggest test of a law meant to curb attempts to stifle public protest.

So much methane has migrated into the well on Mr. Lipsky’s Parker County estate that he can ignite the stream that flows from it. Mr. Lipsky blames the phenomenon on nearby gas drilling in the Barnett Shale. In the past three years, he has shared those suspicions in YouTube videos, the film “Gasland Part II” and news reports.

Residents Worry Urban Drilling Will Turn Downtowns Into Oil Towns

Dawn Gioia lives just two blocks away from City Hall in Brighton, Colo., just north of Denver. She never expected to receive a thick envelope from Mid-Continent Energy in the mail, proposing she sell mineral rights for oil and gas drilling.

At first, she thought it was a scam.

“One of these forms asks you for all your tax information and Social Security numbers, so that was something that sort of caught me off guard,” she says.

The packet also included a lease for her mineral rights. The terms include a $1,200 signing bonus for every acre owned, and 18 percent after that.

Drilling damages water in four Pulaski wells

Four private water supplies in Pulaski Township are among 243 statewide damaged by gas and oil drilling.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection released the list following numerous public records requests from news media.

The four wells were the only ones listed for Lawrence County.

Belleville disposal site center of controversy over fracking, radioactive waste

Wayne Disposal Inc. has suddenly become a hot topic after years without controversy, a development that company officials don’t completely understand.

The private landfill operation that sits just off Interstate 94 in Belleville is caught in the tug of war over energy policy in Michigan as well as other states. It has been here for several decades handling wastes that can’t be stored in a normal solid waste landfill — such as incinerator ash, dust from steel mill air filtering systems or PCB-contaminated soils and sediments from industrial sites.

IRS set to clarify who qualifies for tax-favored status in the shale patch

It’s just a joke to anyone in the energy world, but it turns out to be an illustrative one.

Why couldn’t a McDonald’s restaurant chain in the shale patch — or any food provider — form a master limited partnership (MLP), thus avoiding the federal corporate income tax?

Answer: It would have to ask the Internal Revenue Service, and MLP experts say it’d have less chance than a snowball in hell.

The Crux Of Determining Fracking’s Safety

For people who live in close proximity to the current oil and gas boom, are there health risks?

It’s a question people are asking from Colorado to Texas and from Pennsylvania to North Dakota, as more and more communities find themselves in the midst of unprecedented energy development.

Dangerous crude could still travel in misclassified tank cars, TSB says

Canada’s transportation safety agency is raising concerns that dangerous crude oil could still be travelling by rail inside misclassified tank cars, despite assurances from the federal government that the problem has been fixed.

In a recent letter to Transport Canada, the Transportation Safety Board said new requirements to test oil don’t explicitly address its “variability,” including the fact that different products are sometimes blended together before they are shipped.

Trans Energy facing criminal charges over drilling pollution

A St. Marys-based natural gas company that agreed to a $3 million civil penalty is also facing federal criminal charges related to its dumping of material from its drilling operations into West Virginia streams without first obtaining a required permit, court records showed Wednesday.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Justice issued a press release announcing the settlement in which Trans Energy Inc. agreed to the civil penalty and to restoring portions of streams and wetlands at 15 West Virginia sites regulators said were polluted by the company’s unauthorized dumping of sand, dirt, rocks and “other materials.”

DEP: Two water contamination cases in Washington Co.

A report released by the state Department of Environmental Protection shows just two residential water sources in Washington County have been affected by natural gas drilling in nearly seven years, prompting a local environmental group to question those findings.

The DEP’s list of water supply determination indicates the agency completed investigations that showed 243 confirmed cases of water contamination “liabilities” across Pennsylvania with most of them located in the northern and eastern parts of the state.

REGION: Opposition to pipeline is voiced

PennEast says the exact route of a proposed natural gas pipeline it wants to build and that would pass through three or four counties in Pennsylvania before crossing the Delaware River to enter New Jersey and ultimately entering Mercer County in northwestern Hopewell Township is still unknown.

“Because this project is in the earliest stages of development, the exact route of the proposed pipeline hasn’t been finalized yet,” said Patricia Kornick, spokeswoman for the PennEast Pipeline Company. She said the route will be chosen after PennEast confers with “the stakeholders involved — landowners and regulatory agencies.”

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.

Fracking views separate candidates for governor

Few issues more clearly separate the candidates for governor than the proposal to drill for natural gas upstate.

Democratic candidate for governor Zephyr Teachout said Wednesday she would ban gas drilling because it threatens the environment. Republican Rob Astorino would promote it to boost jobs. Democratic Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, after three years of consideration, hasn’t made up his mind.

What You Need to Know About The New Fracking Rules

Illinois lawmakers promised thousands of jobs when they approved fracking last year. But drilling companies are still waiting for the go ahead. We’re now one step closer after the Illinois Department of Natural Resources released its latest rules last week.

But the agency is not ready to let the drilling begin just yet. This is the second draft of the rules. The process started back in November, and since then it’s garnered a lot of attention. Now officials say it could be less than 90 days before drillers can start applying for permits.

Kansas task force: No clear answers as to what’s causing quake increase

There is insufficient research available to say what has caused a significant increase of minor earthquakes in Kansas, a governor-appointed task force concluded in a report that was made available this week.

To improve the information, the group asked for six state-operated monitoring stations to be installed to gather data. There now are two, and both are run by a federal agency.

Nova Scotia To Ban Fracking: ‘We Need To Respect The Trust The People Have Put In Us’

Nova Scotia plans to introduce legislation to ban fracking this fall, Energy Minister Andrew Younger announced Wednesday.

Younger told the CBC the ban won’t be permanent, but he didn’t have a timeline for when it might be lifted. Instead, he said if a community in Nova Scotia showed interest in allowing fracking, the government would consider lifting the ban. Up until now, Younger said, the Nova Scotian public has “overwhelmingly expressed concern” in fracking, and that government leaders “need to respect that.”

Nevada Fracking Case To Be Decided Next Week

A federal judge plans to decide next week whether to block the release of oil and gas leases in Nevada that critics say will be used for hydraulic fracturing and cause more environmental harm than the Bureau of Land Management admits.

Lawyers for the Reese River Basin Citizens Against Fracking urged U.S. District Judge Miranda Du on Wednesday to issue an emergency order to prevent the BLM from formally issuing the leases later this month in an area stretching across about 270 square miles of central Nevada.

BP exec critiques oil spill reporting

On the eve of a federal judge ruling that the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster resulted from BP’s gross negligence, a company executive was rapping hundreds of environmental reporters for not telling the “full picture” about the oil spill.

Speaking to the Society of Environmental Journalists’ annual convention in New Orleans on Wednesday night, BP’s senior vice president of U.S. communications, Geoff Morrell, said reporters have overlooked good news about the Gulf of Mexico’s rebound since the 2010 spill.

BP’s ‘gross negligence’ caused Gulf oil spill, federal judge rules

A federal judge in New Orleans on Thursday ruled that BP’s “gross negligence” and “willful misconduct” had caused the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 and that the company’s “reckless” behavior made it subject to fines of as much as $4,300 a barrel under the Clean Water Act.

The ruling by District Court Judge Carl Barbier means that the government can impose penalties nearly four times as large as it could if BP were not found guilty of gross negligence.

BP oil spill ruling could mean $18 billion in fines for ‘gross negligence’

BP could be looking at close to $18 billion in additional fines over the nation’s worst offshore oil spill after a federal judge ruled Thursday that the company acted with “gross negligence” in the 2010 Gulf of Mexico disaster.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier concluded that the London-based oil giant showed a “conscious disregard of known risks” during the drilling operation and bears most of the responsibility for the blowout that killed 11 rig workers and spewed millions of gallons of oil over three months.

BP Was Just Found Grossly Negligent in the Gulf Oil Spill Disaster. Read the Full Ruling.

In a blunt ruling handed down on Thursday, a federal judge in New Orleans found that the biggest oil spill in US history, the 2010 Gulf of Mexico disaster, was caused by BP’s “willful misconduct” and “gross negligence.”

On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, killing 11 people and spilling millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf over the next several months. According to Bloomberg, the plaintiffs in the lawsuit include “the federal government, five Gulf of Mexico states, banks, restaurants, fishermen and a host of others.”

La. fishermen react to BP oil spill ruling

On Thursday a federal judge ruled that BP acted with “gross negligence” in the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The ruling could cost the company close to $18 billion in additional fines.

In Keystone pipeline debate, Nebraska high court will have sway

Nebraska’s top court will hear arguments on Friday about how the Keystone XL pipeline might cross the state – a narrow question of routing and permitting that has clouded the project’s fate after more than five years of wrangling at the federal level.

At issue is a 2012 law that gave Governor Dave Heineman authority to approve a route for TransCanada Corp’s proposed Canada-to-Texas project.

Nebraska’s Supreme Court To Hear Keystone XL Pipeline Case

The White House delayed a decision on the pipeline until a Nebraska route is approved. The state’s high court hears arguments on Friday over whether the governor had authority to approve the route.

Enterprise holds open season for Bakken to Cushing pipeline

Enterprise Products Partners LP said on Thursday that it was holding an open season for a proposed pipeline that would be the first in directly moving shale oil from the Bakken formation to Cushing, Oklahoma.

The pipeline, which would have an initial capacity of some 340,000 barrels per day of crude oil and expandable to more than 700,000 bpd, should be fully operational by the third quarter of 2017, the company said.

As Keystone awaits fate, other tar sands projects move forward

The federal government has quietly approved major tar sands transportation projects with unstudied environmental effects — managing to circumvent the executive branch’s impact analysis that paralyzed development of the Keystone XL pipeline and bolstered activists’ claims that the project is dangerous and damaging to the environment.

Over the past few years, the Keystone pipeline has become a household name. The controversy caused by Canadian pipeline company TransCanada’s project, which would bring hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil from Canada’s tar sands to the U.S. each day, has ignited an environmental movement across the country, and has elicited responses from top U.S. politicians, including President Obama.

Enbridge Northern Gateway 2018 Target ‘Evaporating’

Enbridge Inc. (ENB)’s target of having the Northern Gateway oil pipeline in service by 2018 is “quickly evaporating” as it strives to build support among aboriginal communities, a company official said.

It’s “going to take time,” John Carruthers, who heads the pipeline project for Enbridge, said in a presentation in Calgary today. “We need to have this time to meet with people and the focus will be on that.”

Agencies prep for arctic oil spills

The ability to detect and manage oil spills in the Arctic is becoming more of an issue as oil and gas exploration, tourism and fishing are expected to increase in the area. In August, teams of researchers started on a month-long voyage to study how to deal with potential oil spills in the Arctic.

Dealing with Arctic oil spills presents unique challenges. Normally the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or Coast Guard would survey the ocean for the oil’s precise location from the air to improve its model of the oil’s expected behavior. However, teams may be unable to get aircraft to the location, or flying in the area may be unsafe.

Arctic route for Alberta oil could trump stalled B.C. pipeline projects

Alberta’s plan to get its landlocked oil to overseas markets by way of Arctic shores might just become a reality — and sooner than the stalled Northern Gateway or Keystone XL projects.

The plan, until recently dismissed as dubious by some skeptics, may have finally found the right combination of winning conditions: a hunger for resource development in Yellowknife, a desperate need to find new markets for oil-sands bitumen, an aggressive push from the federal government to reduce environmental oversight in the territory, and the changing northern climate.

Report says Arctic route is ‘feasible’ option to get Alberta oil to overseas markets

As the president of the Northern Gateway pipeline told a Calgary business audience on Thursday that a 2018 start date was “quickly evaporating,” the Alberta government was sitting on a new possibility to get its oil to overseas markets: the Arctic. And its first — albeit smallish — delivery could be as early as next year.

That was the conclusion of a newly released report, commissioned by the Alberta government last year, by Arctic petroleum consultants Canatec Associates International Ltd. It suggests that getting oil-sands bitumen to the Far North port of Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., could be a cheap, efficient and effective way to get Alberta’s landlocked bitumen to oil-hungry Asia.

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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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