Environmental Must-Reads – September 9, 2014


Clock Ticking for Texas Families to Take Legal Action on Fracking Pollution

Attorney Tomas Ramirez is confident he’ll win an appeal in the case of a Karnes County, Texas family who sued two oil companies claiming their lives had been ruined by toxic emissions.

But even a win on appeal could take up to two years, and Ramirez thinks the delay could discourage other people from filing similar claims.

Bad News for Obama: Fracking May Be Worse Than Burning Coal

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.

Fracking vs. forests: How Sally Jewell squares protecting wilderness with supporting energy industry

If Interior Secretary Sally Jewell had it her way, she’d make her office in the great outdoors.

“This is my favorite office; it’s my favorite playground — one with no walls,” Jewell told “Power Players” during a hike through Maine’s Acadia National Park.

On the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, which established the protection of 9 million acres worth of wilderness on federal lands, Jewell discussed the balancing act she plays in trying to simultaneously conserve the nation’s precious wilderness, while also tapping into the potential for oil and gas development ventures.

Fines, hearings among lingering ‘fracking’ issues

Environmentalists want to lift a cap on fines for violations, while industry officials want to limit who can ask for a public hearing as each side prepares for their last shot at changing proposed rules governing high-volume oil and gas drilling in Illinois.

As Illinois moves closer to allowing hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” within the state’s borders, proponents and critics are poring over extensive rules developed by the state Department of Natural Resources to see if they address concerns or add any unexpected twists.

A Year Post-Flood, No Mandated Changes For Oil And Gas Operators

One of the more striking images during the September flood was of inundated oil and gas pads, washed out earthen berms and overturned storage tanks. In all, over 48,000 gallons of oil and condensate spilled.

While changes have been made in the industry to prepare for another flood, so far, they’re strictly voluntary.

The End of Fracking Is Closer Than You Think

Canadian geologist David Hughes has some sober news for the Kool-Aid-drinking boosters of the United States’ newfound eminence in fossil fuel production: it’s going to go bust sooner rather than later.

Working with the Post Carbon Institute, a sustainability think-tank, Hughes meticulously analyzed industry data from 65,000 US shale oil and natural gas wells that use the much-ballyhooed extraction method of hydraulic fracturing, colloquially known as fracking. The process involves drilling horizontally as well as vertically, and then pumping a toxic cocktail of pressurized water, sand, and chemicals deep underground in order to break apart the rock formations that hold deposits of oil and gas.

Water allocation an issue at fracking locations across US and globally

Extracting natural gas for energy from shale rock deep underground requires lots of water, but much of the world’s shale gas is in regions where water is already scarce, including part of California, according to a study issued Tuesday.

The amount of recoverable natural gas from shale formations would increase global reserves by nearly half, the report from the World Resources Institute found. That’s a potentially enormous boost for the international economy and for reduction of greenhouse gases that cause climate change, as gas used for power generation burns more cleanly than coal.

A New Study Clarifies Treatment Needs for Water from Fracked Gas and Oil Wells

A good post on InsideClimate News last week explored a new study of organic compounds and other constituents in the briny water that emerges from gas or oil wells created using the high-pressure process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. (This “produced water” is a mix of fracturing fluid and water from the rock layers being drilled.)

Survey: Pennsylvanians like fracking more than New Yorkers

Pennsylvanians have a much more favorable view of shale gas development compared to their counterparts in New York, according to a new public opinion survey.

The two states have taken vastly different approaches to the boom in Marcellus Shale drilling. The formation lies under large swaths of Pennsylvania and stretches into southern New York. While Pennsylvania welcomed the industry, New York has had a moratorium on high volume hydraulic fracturing since 2008.

Trans Energy to Restore Streams, Wetlands Damaged by Fracking

From badly underestimated methane emissions and groundwater contamination to triggering earthquakes, the multiple human and environmental health threats posed by horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) of shale deposits to release natural gas and petroleum have been well documented.

Negligence and shoddy practices by oil and gas companies exploring for natural gas and petroleum in tightly-packed shale deposits also threatens ecosystems, human health and safety, and critical natural resources on the surface – including precious freshwater resources.

U.K. Government Backs BP in U.S. Over ‘Unreasonable’ Oil Spill Payments

BP Plc got support from the U.K. government in its U.S. court fight over the level of compensation required under a settlement of lawsuits stemming from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

The U.K. told U.S. Supreme Court judges in a filing that decisions to authorize payments to people who were not injured by the spill raises “grave international comity concerns by undermining confidence in the vigorous and fair resolution of disputes.” The filing shows the government’s interest in the treatment of one of the country’s most prominent companies.

New evidence released in oil spill settlement debacle leaves another black eye on Louisiana’s legal reputation

As reported by the Louisiana Record earlier this week, newly released information about the claims administrator for the Gulf oil spill settlement, Patrick Juneau, raises serious questions about whether he merits serving in this role. The new allegations also reinforce the notion of a legal system that’s gone awry.

Since being tapped to oversee settlement claims in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2012, Juneau has presided over several high profile scandals. From the systemic payment of questionable claims, to allegations of expediting claims for friendly lawyers, and more allegations of money laundering and other unethical behavior that caused several of his top officials to resign, it is clear Juneau’s tenure with the Court Supervised Settlement Program has been marked by controversy.

Wisner Donation land agreement with BP doesn’t require oil removal, federal judge says

The Wisner Donation trust fund is likely to get less than half of its demands that BP restart a program to remove oil from its property along the Caminada/Fourchon Beach waterfront in Lafourche Parish, according to a series of recommendations made Friday (Sept. 5) by a federal magistrate judge.

Magistrate Judge Joseph Wilkinson Jr. found that an agreement between BP and the trust providing the company access to the trust’s land during the cleanup might require the company to repair damage caused by cleanup operations.

Shell announces first oil from Cardamom field in Gulf of Mexico

Shell Oil Co. announced Monday it had begun production from a Gulf of Mexico subsea development it discovered in 2010 that is now poised to produce 50,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day.

The announcement marks the second big Gulf of Mexico startup for Shell this year. In February, Shell began production from its Mars B project.

Cardamom, located about 225 miles southwest of New Orleans, was discovered thanks to advances in its seismic imaging technology, the company said.

Pipeline from oilsands to Arctic is feasible: Alberta study

Sending oilsands bitumen north through N.W.T. to a port in the Arctic is feasible, according to a study commissioned last year by Alberta.

Dubbed the Arctic Gateway Pipeline, the proposed link would ship bitumen along the Mackenzie Valley to a port in Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T.

It says shipping of bitumen through Tuktoyaktuk could start as early as next summer, using freight trains to Hay River, N.W.T., then barges the rest of the way down the Mackenzie River and on to Tuktoyaktuk.

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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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