Environmental Must-Reads – September 8, 2014


Louisiana’s St. Tammany Parish Comes One Step Closer to Fracking

The Department of Louisiana Natural Resources (DNR) has approved a unit permit for Helis Oil & Gas Company for a site in St. Tammany Parish that the company plans to frack.

The department’s decision came on Friday, August 29, the ninth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the beginning of the Labor Day weekend.

How Methane Wrecked Obama’s Fracking Gambit

If you’re a politician, science is a bitch; it resists spin. And a new set of studies—about, of all things, a simple molecule known as CH4—show that President Obama’s climate change strategy is starting to unravel even as it’s being knit. To be specific: most of the administration’s theoretical gains in the fight against global warming have come from substituting natural gas for coal. But it looks now as if that doesn’t really help.

Rigs in U.S. rose by 11 to 1,925, Baker Hughes says

Rigs targeting oil and natural gas in the U.S. advanced by 11 to 1,925, according to Baker Hughes.

Oil rigs increased by nine to 1,584, data posted on the company’s website show. The gas count rose by two to 340, the Houston-based field services company said.

The total energy rig count has almost doubled from five years ago as producers use horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing to draw record volumes of oil and gas out of shale formations from North Dakota to Texas. The boom has raised domestic crude production to the highest level in 28 years, shrinking oil imports to the U.S.

Semirural neighborhood becomes Marcellus Shale zoning battleground

A semirural enclave in Lycoming County has become the latest legal battleground pitting neighbor against neighbor over Marcellus Shale gas drilling.

The environmental group PennFuture is hailing a judge’s ruling last week that threw out a township decision allowing natural-gas wells to be drilled in an area zoned residential.

Deep Divide: Ballot measure is a fight over oil practices, water, rights

Paul Hain raises free-range, organic chickens and grows walnuts on a local ranch. Richard Bianchi owns property in the county and works for a farming operation here.

Both have deep ties to the land in a community where agriculture is by far the number one industry – topping $300 million in production last year for the first time – but they have opposing views on a ballot initiative aiming to restrict petroleum production in the county.

Protesters Against Fracked Oil Deliveries Chain Themselves At Richmond Yard

A dramatic showdown at a rail yard in Richmond on Thursday as protesters locked themselves to a gate to disrupt operations at the facility.

The yard is the only one in California that is bringing in 100-car trains full of potentially explosive fracked crude oil. Earlier this year, KPIX 5 was the first to uncover the operation.

Frack-Free Leaders in Illinois, Hedging Their Bets, Shelve Calls for Ban

Grassroots groups fighting hydraulic fracturing in Illinois have put aside their push for a moratorium or a ban in recent months in favor of seeking stronger industry regulations.

“Basically, we’re hedging our bets,” said Annette McMichael, spokeswoman for Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing Our Environment (SAFE). “We are firmly against fracking, and yet we are willing to work within the legislative confines.”

Fracking’s Wastewater, Poorly Understood, Is Analyzed for First Time

A new study in the journal Environmental Science: Processes and Impacts offers one of the most comprehensive analyses yet of what’s in a type of waste called produced water, a poorly understood and controversial byproduct of fracking.

This peer-reviewed study by a pair of researchers at Rice University in Houston shows that while fracking-produced water shouldn’t be allowed near drinking water, it’s less toxic than similar waste from coal-bed methane mining. It also revealed how the contents of this waste differ dramatically across three major shale plays: Texas’ Eagle Ford, New Mexico’s Barnett and Pennsylvania’s Marcellus.

Ohio halts injections at two wells for fracking wastewater after quake

State regulators suspended operations at two deep-injection wells for fracking wastewater in northeastern Ohio yesterday after discovering possible evidence that the operation caused a 2.1-magnitude earthquake last weekend.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources issued a chief’s order to American Water Management Services for its Weathersfield site near Warren, an agency spokeswoman said. Messages seeking comment were left for the company after regular business hours.

$1B shale-gas pipeline to move ahead

A consortium of New Jersey and Pennsylvania utilities that wants to develop a 105-mile Marcellus Shale natural gas pipeline says it has received enough commitments from shippers to move ahead with the $1 billion project.

PennEast Pipeline Co. L.L.C. says it received binding bids for nearly one billion cubic feet a day of gas on the pipeline, which would start in Luzerne County and terminate in the Trenton area.

Lawsuit over Broomfield fracking moratorium bound for court Sept. 19

The issue of whether oil and gas company Sovereign is subject to Broomfield’s controversial, voter-approved five-year moratorium on fracking, will go before a judge on Sept. 19.

Sovereign is suing, claiming it should be exempt from the restriction because of an agreement it had in place before the moratorium was approved by voters. Sovereign in 2013 planned to drill new wells in Broomfield, but was not able to because of the passage of the moratorium

Under federal scrutiny, oil trains travel hundreds of miles in Kentucky each week

Freight trains laden with volatile crude oil pass through seven Kentucky counties each week, according to disclosures filed with the state’s emergency management agency.

As many as five CSX Corp. trains carry oil from the upper Great Plains’ Bakken shale fields into Boyd and Greenup counties in northeastern Kentucky, and a similar number rolls through Henderson, Webster, Hopkins, Christian and Todd counties in the western part of the state. In all, CSX sends the trains along more than 200 miles of track in Kentucky.

If You Read Only One Story On Health And Fracking, Read This One

If you live right next to a drilling rig, or your kids go to school beside a fracking site, or your county is suddenly littered with well pads  — are there health risks? That’s a question that’s been asked from Pennsylvania to North Dakota, from Colorado to Texas as more and more people find themselves and their towns in the midst of an unprecedented energy boom. In this second part of a series on public health risks, Inside Energy reporters Jordan Wirfs-Brock and Leigh Paterson clarify the confusion and describe a new scientific effort to help communities make informed decisions about this booming industry.

Landfill has history of violations

Despite assurances that a Belleville landfill and its partner facility in nearby Van Buren Township that accept radioactive hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” waste are safe, they have been cited for at least 15 violations in the past decade and fined more than $471,000, a Detroit Free Press review of state and federal records shows.

Wayne Disposal’s owner, USEcology, which also owns neighboring Michigan Disposal, on just under 600 acres between Willow Run Airport and Interstate 94, cited its record of “safe, secure and compliant disposal” as a reason it’s an appropriate site for out-of-state, radioactive fracking waste.

State backs off plans to test for WNC natural gas potential

Despite a recent pullback on testing for natural gas potential in Western North Carolina, environmental groups say the threat of hydraulic fracturing — or fracking — still looms over the region.

The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources recently decided not to conduct rock tests this fall in seven mountain counties looking at the potential for natural gas deposits, as initially planned.

Water testing cannot explain dirty well water for Susquehanna County woman

A series of water tests by private and government laboratories show Gerri Kane’s well water is safe to drink, but what comes out of the tap tells a different story.

Nestled in an isolated rural Susquehanna County town, Kane has watched natural gas development unfurl into a boom since 2008. There are six well pads within walking distance from her doorstep where she lives with her longtime partner, Kenny Macialek, in the home he bought in 2002.

Oil Spill Penalty Will Hurt, but Not Cripple, BP

BP fought long and hard to avoid the defeat it suffered in court on Thursday when a federal judge ruled that the oil company was chiefly responsible for the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion, opening the door to new civil penalties that could potentially amount to $18 billion.

But analysts say that it could be years before the company pays any of those penalties and that they could turn out to be as low as $8 billion to $10 billion. And with the company expecting cash flow of $30 billion to $31 billion this year, the environmental payments will be stiff but not impossible to make.

Will latest ruling spur BP to seek a settlement with federal government?

With BP now facing a price tag for the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill that could rise to $50 billion, legal experts and industry analysts are watching for signs of whether the company may seek to renew settlement negotiations with the federal government as it appeals a federal judge’s ruling last week that its actions leading to the disaster “amounted to gross negligence and willful misconduct.”

UK government lends hand to BP in U.S. Gulf oil spill rulings

The British government has urged the U.S. Supreme Court to review appeals court rulings against BP Plc over a 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill that produced one of the largest class actions in American history.

In a friend of court brief, the UK government said lower court rulings raise grave international concerns by undermining confidence in the “vigorous and fair resolution of disputes.”

Botched safety test, extra drilling key to “reckless” BP ruling

A federal judge’s ruling that BP was reckless in the lead-up to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill hinged on mishandling of well integrity tests and a decision to  drill deeper than was deemed safe, among other factors the judge said were “motivated by profit.”

For years, the London oil company has been waging courtroom warfare over the events before the worst oil spill in U.S. history, pointing to alleged mistakes by cement contractor Halliburton and rig operator Transocean, which owned the Deepwater Horizon rig where 11 workers died in an explosion as the disaster unfolded.

Punitive damages question lingers in BP oil spill case

The question of whether BP can be assessed punitive damages for its role in the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill could compel the Supreme Court to take up the matter.

In a ruling that BP was grossly negligent in the days before the disaster, a federal judge said general maritime law precedents established by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals make operational recklessness by employees an insufficient cause for punitive damages against a corporation. Punitive damages are the civil court system’s way of punishing and deterring misbehavior and sometimes accompany compensatory damages that repay plaintiffs for actual losses.

Gulf of Mexico Residents Hail Ruling Against BP

Environmentalists, recreational fishermen and people who make their living on the Gulf of Mexico are hailing a federal judge’s ruling that could mean $18 billion in additional fines for BP over the nation’s worst offshore oil spill.

Lisa Smith cheered and gave an emphatic “yes” Thursday afternoon when she heard about the decision as she fished off a beach bridge in Florida.

“BP should have to pay, they’ve done a lot of damage,” Smith said.

BP oil spill ruling could jumpstart Gulf Coast restoration work

The September 4 ruling by a federal court that BP acted with “gross negligence” in the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster is a big deal for the oil giant, which now faces as much as $18 billion in new fines.

But it’s an even bigger deal for those who spend their working days trying to bring soiled Gulf beaches and ecosystems back to life since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded that fatal April Sunday four years ago.

Ill. EPA memo: Communication breakdown in BP oil spill in lake

The BP oil spill into Lake Michigan earlier this year was “a shot over the bow,” jolting Illinois officials to consider the prospect of future industrial accidents and the threat to drinking water.

That’s according to an Illinois Environmental Protection Agency official who warned his colleagues in an email shortly after the March 25 spill that communication and coordination were not good following the incident in northwest Indiana.

Nebraska Supreme Court Holds the Key to Keystone XL’s Future

Nebraskan landowners who have fought the Keystone XL pipeline to a standstill there urged the state’s Supreme Court on Friday to reaffirm that the legislature acted unconstitutionally when it allowed rubberstamp approval of the pipeline’s proposed route across the region’s fragile sandhills and vulnerable aquifers.

Otherwise, said David Domina, the landowners’ lawyer, the Canadian pipeline company TransCanada and its political allies would be free to run untrammeled over private landholders and the public interest without due process or judicial review.

Keystone XL Pipeline: Landowners, State Attorneys Square Off In Nebraska Supreme Court Over Proposed Pipeline Route

Opponents and defenders of the Keystone XL’s route through Nebraska squared off in the state’s highest court Friday morning. The camps gave oral arguments in the appeal of Thompson v. Heineman, a lawsuit brought by landowners that could determine when — or if — the controversial crude oil pipeline gets built in the United States.

Keystone Pipeline Operator Will Ask for Recertification

The operator of the long-delayed Keystone XL crude oil pipeline says it will ask South Dakota’s utility regulators to recertify the project in the state before September’s end.

Keystone President Corey Goulet said the state’s public utilities commission must recertify that the portion of the nearly 1,200 mile project cutting through South Dakota is still viable.

Iowa’s pipeline safety record spotty

As a Texas energy company seeks approval for its plan to build a 1,100-mile pipeline carrying North Dakota crude oil across 17 Iowa counties, documents show the state’s pipeline safety record has been less than spotless.

While the state has avoided large-scale disasters, records show Iowa has had 100 pipeline spills since 2004, with a majority of the accidents involving anhydrous ammonia and propane. Other products involved in Iowa pipeline accidents over the past decade have included natural gas, gasoline, diesel fuel and butane, according to state and federal records reviewed by The Des Moines Register.

Residents: Enbridge hasn’t lived up to property promises

Dennis and Dorothy Moody have a pond with unusual vegetation in their backyard in rural Livingston County. The natural features were not a beautification project for their property in Oceola Township, northeast of Howell.

Quite the opposite.

According to the couple, Enbridge Energy LP created the situation while replacing its Line 6B crude oil pipeline abut two years ago.

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.

Statoil Arctic oil well halted after environmental challenge

Norwegian oil company Statoil has had to stop drilling at the Arctic Pingvin prospect because of an appeal against its environmental permit, North Energy, a partner in the project, said on Friday.

“The top hole on Pingvin has been drilled,” North Energy said in a statement. “The timing of a resumption of drilling on the Pingvin prospect will depend on how long it takes to settle the appeal and the decision reached.”

Shut California’s Fukushima: Diablo Must Go

The catastrophe at Fukushima was not an accident. It’s unfolding again in California.

The next west coast quake could easily shake the two reactors at Diablo Canyon to rubble.

They are riddled with defects, can’t withstand potential seismic shocks from five major nearby fault lines, violate state water quality laws and are vulnerable to tsunamis and fire.

New Mexico nuclear waste site may be hobbled for years

It may be years before an underground nuclear waste dump in New Mexico shuttered by a radiation leak is fully operational, and costs for decontamination and other activities to restore the facility are not yet clear, Energy Department officials said.

A recovery plan is being crafted for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, but details are not expected to be finalized for weeks, Dana Bryson, the deputy manager of the Energy Department field office that oversees the dump, said during a public meeting last week.

Gov’t body cuts compensation for deaths over Fukushima disaster

The government-backed body that handles the alternative dispute resolution (ADR) for the Fukushima nuclear disaster has set the causal relationship between evacuee deaths and the nuclear disaster at below 50 percent in over 80 percent of the 120 settlement proposals so far, it has been learned.

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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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