Weekend Environmental Must-Reads – November 17-18, 2012


Even after $4.5-billion oil spill fines, civil trial looms for BP

WASHINGTON — BP has accepted criminal responsibility for the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, a move that it said has put the criminal part of one of the nation’s worst environmental disasters in the rear-view mirror.

BP criminal fine brings some relief to spill-hit Gulf residents

Gulf Coast residents expressed two main emotions the day after BP Plc. (BP.L) agreed to pay $4.5 billion and plead guilty to criminal misconduct stemming from the disastrous 2010 oil spill: relief that BP was being held accountable, and anger that it took more than two years to happen.

Oil Platform Fire Sends Shockwaves Through Gulf On Heels of Record BP Fines

An oil platform explosion and fire today near the site of the nation’s greatest offshore oil spill in history — BP’s Deepwater Horizon — sent shivers up the spines of many Gulf residents as the U.S. Coast Guard reported that 11 crewmembers were flown to area hospitals and two crewmembers were still missing as of Friday evening. News reports said four workers were critically injured with burns.

BP Criminal Plea Puts Indicted Rig Bosses, Executive In Tight Spot

British oil giant BP pleaded guilty Thursday to more than a dozen felony charges related to the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, including manslaughter and obstruction of justice. The deal will cost the company $4.5 billion, and immunize BP from further criminal prosecution over the disaster.

BP conduct ‘simple’ or ‘gross’ negligence? Answer could mean billions of dollars

The difference between reaping a massive windfall from BP PLC and merely a large one likely will hinge on the question of how negligent the company’s conduct was during the Gulf of Mexico oil spill two years ago.

Mobile County officials on BP settlement: This is not the end of the story (updated)

MOBILE, Alabama — Mobile County officials were unsatisfied with the $4.5 billion BP agreed to pay to settle federal criminal charges against the company for the 2010 Gulf oil spill, but many saw the fine as a start in the right direction.

BP’s criminal plea in spill sets stage for civil duels

While this week’s plea deal closes the door on criminal charges against BP in the deadly 2010 blowout and oil spill, it also sets up the looming battles to come over how much BP will have to pay in civil fines for environmental damage.

Gulf Coast States at Odds on Penalties for Oil Spill

NEW ORLEANS — With BP’s agreement on Thursday to plead guilty to 14 criminal charges and pay $4.5 billion in fines and other payments in connection with its 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Gulf Coast politicians are now eyeing a much bigger potential windfall from the company: $20 billion or more in civil pollution penalties for the spill.

Undoing the damage of Deepwater Horizon: Editorial

BP’s $4 billion settlement of criminal penalties stemming from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is just the first step in holding the company legally accountable for the horrific damage it did to the Gulf Coast and for the deaths of 11 men on the rig.

Gulf oil spill: Defense lawyers say BP rig workers are scapegoats

NEW ORLEANS — While BP has resolved a sweeping criminal probe of its role in the massive 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, two company employees charged in the deaths of 11 rig workers claim the Justice Department is trying to make them scapegoats for the disaster.

BP’s Settlement Is Only the Beginning of the End of the Gulf Oil Spill

All the oil has been cleaned up or has evaporated from the waters of the Gulf of Mexico—well, nearly all of it—while the spill itself seems to have receded into memory, something that transfixed us for months but which is now little more than grist for an episode of the Newsroom. (Note: the amnesia may not apply to Gulf residents.) The legal mess over the worst oil spill in U.S. history, however, is still far from being cleaned up.

Vent wells burning gas from sinkhole area

Assumption Parish and Texas Brine Co. LLC officials are reporting progress by specially built wells put to work collecting and burning methane trapped in a water aquifer under the Bayou Corne area.

Three vent wells already are burning off gas, and Texas Brine officials have plans to link flaring equipment on Monday to a fourth existing well that is being converted to the gas-removal process, company and parish officials said.

2 missing after fire on oil platform off Louisiana coast; 4 critically injured (video)

NEW ORLEANS — The Coast Guard was searching Friday for two workers missing after a fire erupted on an oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico, sending an ominous black plume of smoke into the air reminiscent of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion that transformed the oil industry and life along the coast.

Coast Guard searches for 2 missing workers in Gulf after oil rig fire; 4 others badly burned

NEW ORLEANS — The eruption of a fire on an oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico — which left two workers missing and four others badly burned — is a vivid reminder of the dangers involved in offshore drilling and the risk it poses to the gulf’s ecosystem and shoreline.

Oil Platform Fire Sends Shockwaves Through Gulf On Heels of Record BP Fines

An oil platform explosion and fire today near the site of the nation’s greatest offshore oil spill in history—BP’s Deepwater Horizon—sent shivers up the spines of many Gulf residents as the U.S. Coast Guard reported that 11 crewmembers were flown to area hospitals and two crewmembers were still missing as of Friday evening. News reports said four workers were critically injured with burns.

Black Elk Energy accident renews offshore oil safety questions

The unfortunate timing of the explosion and fire aboard Black Elk Energy’s West Delta Block 32 production platform — a day after BP pleaded guilty to criminal charges stemming from the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill — predictably prompted familiar questions about whether the oil and gas industry’s safety culture in the Gulf of Mexico has changed. Environmental groups said the incident reinforced their concerns about continued drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, in particular when it’s done by small companies like Black Elk.

Baton Rouge General has four burn victims in care after Gulf of Mexico platform fire

As the only burn center in Southern Louisiana, Robin Passman, director of specialty care services at Baton Rouge General Hospital, said the four burn victims that suffered injuries from Friday’s oil rig fire are in good care. Passman said the burn center has a variety of experience in this field.

Investigator calls Gulf platform explosion “very serious”

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board is examining an explosion Friday in the Gulf of Mexico, which a board  official described as “very serious,” after two workers went missing and 11 were injured.

Injuries to workers, explosion on oil platform shocks Lafourche community

Coast Guard crews in an 87-foot patrol boat continued the search Friday night for two workers who went missing after a platform explosion in the Gulf of Mexico.

Another oil rig fire, this time in Alaska

A Shell Oil drilling rig in an international port in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands caugh fire Friday morning, according to a story on the Alaska Dispatch website.

U.S. rig count up 3; La. gains 5

HOUSTON — The number of rigs actively exploring for oil and natural gas in the U.S. rose this week by three to 1,809.

Texas-based oilfield services company Baker Hughes Inc. reported Friday that 1,390 rigs were exploring for oil and 417 were searching for gas. Two were listed as miscellaneous. A year ago, Baker Hughes counted 2,001 rigs.

How Safe Are America’s 2.5 Million Miles of Pipelines?

The nation’s aging oil pipelines are roughly 70 times as safe as trucks when it comes to transporting fuel, but when a pipeline does fail (there are hundreds of ruptures and spills every year), the consequences can be catastrophic

The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is far from a done deal

There has been a lot of speculation there will be a quick decision to approve the northern segment of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline in the media this week. It started only days after President Obama was re-elected with Canadian Natural Resources Minister Oliver predicting that the pipeline would be approved quickly following the election. TransCanada, the company that has proposed the pipeline, is also predicting a quick approval (something they have done numerous times in the past).   These predictions have been wrong and ignore the facts.  President Obama made clean energy and environmental protection a concern in his first term and we expect it will remain and even increase as a priority.  The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is clearly counter to an agenda that promotes clean energy and fighting global warming.

Thousands to Rally Against the Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline at the White House Sunday

President is back in the White House… and it seems from news coverage that the effort to push that zombie Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is back too. The good news is, we’re back, too! This Sunday, thousands will converge on the White House to protest this dirty tar sands pipeline.

Strong appointments to NYS fracking health panel, but more commitments still needed to ensure a robust, public review process

New York State’s Health Commissioner, Dr. Nirav Shah, has named three top-notch public health experts to assist in its consideration of the health risks associated with potential new fracking. These experts – Lynn Goldman, dean of George Washington University’s School of Public Health and Health Services; John Adgate, chair of the Environmental and Occupational Health Department at the Colorado School of Public Health; and Richard Jackson, chair of the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health – are among the foremost experts in the country in their respective fields and in the field of health impact assessment (HIA).

Fracking Sand May Pose Health Hazard To Workers, Residents

The first time Bill Ferullo saw the white plumes drifting from a natural gas fracking site, he got out of his car to take pictures.

“I didn’t know what it was,” he recalled. “But two minutes later my chest was burning. It burned all night.”

Australian scientists find excess greenhouse gas near fracking

Environmental researchers have detected excess greenhouse gas levels near the site of Australia’s biggest coal seam gas field, prompting calls for halting expansion of hydraulic fracturing until scientists can determine whether it might be contributing to climate change.

NY agency names panel to review fracking study

ALBANY, N.Y. — New York’s health department has named experts from George Washington University, the University of California Los Angeles and the Colorado School of Public Health to review the state’s environmental study on shale gas development using hydraulic fracturing, a state official said Thursday.

Ethics must be paramount on fracking commission

A state commission is being handed the enormous responsibility of determining how, when and where natural gas drillers will work in this state, potentially deciding key questions involving billions of dollars.

Members of that commission must certainly be subject to the state’s ethics laws.

Water is fracking issue in Utah, Wyoming, Colorado

From the Denver-based Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development:

Commercial oil shale development in Utah, Wyoming and Colorado would require large volumes of water, threatening Western water supplies and jeopardizing fish and wildlife, according to a report released Thursday by Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development.

Fracking’s Dirty Air Secret

Last week, supporters of the controversial drilling practice know as fracking held a rally in Denver. According to media reports, one booster drew laughs from the crowd when he said that fracking’s economic benefits would eventually “trickle down to attorneys [and] doctors.”

Gas industry rattled by findings of triple normal levels of methane

LEVELS of the potent greenhouse gas methane have been recorded at more than three times their normal background levels at coal seam gas fields in Australia, raising questions about the true climate change impact of the booming industry.

Chemicals, Wartersheds & Maps: More Tools for the Anti-fracking Movement

It seems that every week there is new information on the dangers of hydraulic fracturing. We have seen a massive uprising to oppose this latest form fossil fuel extraction from the oil & gas industry and grassroots activists are doing their own research to counter the claims of the fossil fuel industry.

Trio Charged with Illegal Frack Water Dumping

MUNCY, PA – The owner of an area trucking company, along with two of his employees, has been charged with dumping thousands of gallons of gas drilling waste water onto the company’s grounds without first getting the required state permits, according to the state attorney general’s office.

20121117-Black Elk Energy Platform Explosion

The report came in before 10 am CST Friday Nov 16 — another explosion at an oil platform in the Gulf, only about 20 nm offshore from Grand Isle, Louisiana. A total of 11 people were flown by helicopter to area hospitals, several of whom were in critical condition. An oil sheen about 200 m by 0.5 nm in size was said to be present on Friday, but on today’s flight we did not see significant surface oil in the vicinity.

Black Elk oil rig explosion in Gulf of Mexico puts focus back on offshore drilling debate

A day after BP agreed to pay a record $4.5 billion criminal fine for its role in the deadly Deepwater Horizon environmental disaster in 2010, another Gulf of Mexico oil rig exploded, killing at least two workers and injuring as many as 11 on Friday.

BP warns that $4.5bn deal is not the end of Gulf of Mexico disaster

The oil major agreed a $4.5bn (£2.8bn) settlement with US authorities on Thursday to end criminal charges over the 2010 accident and pleaded guilty to manslaughter of the 11 men who died. But it is yet to resolve civil claims, due to be heard at a trial starting in February. These include fines under the Clean Water Act, for which BP has budgeted $3.5bn as it denies a “gross negligence” charge sought by the US. That could bring fines of $21bn.

Alabama to get $335 million from BP criminal settlement

Alabama will receive about $335 million from the criminal settlement announced Thursday between BP and the U.S. Department of Justice, according to court documents.

Attorney General Luther Strange says BP criminal plea strengthens Alabama’s civil case

BP PLC’s decision to plead guilty to 11 criminal charges related to the deadly explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig two year ago strengthens Alabama’s hand in pursuing civil fines, Attorney General Luther Strange said this afternoon.

Despite Accord, Spill Aftermath Shadows BP.

LONDON — The deal that BP reached Thursday with the United States is another step toward removing the doubt that has hung over the company and its stock price since the explosion that killed 11 people on the Deepwater Horizon rig in 2010. But it is not the comprehensive settlement that the company and investors were hoping for.

Body found near oil platform

NEW ORLEANS — Authorities say that divers hired by the owner of an oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico that caught fire on Friday have recovered a body near the site.

Coast Guard ends search for 2 after oil rig fire

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The Coast Guard on Saturday evening called off its search for two workers missing after an explosion and fire on an oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico a day earlier. Four others workers were badly burned in the blaze, which evoked memories of the deadly 2010 Gulf oil spill.

Company vows continued search near burned Gulf rig

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The company that owns an oil platform that caught fire in the Gulf of Mexico has vowed to continue searching for a second missing worker after a body was recovered in the waters near the site.

Body found from Black Elk oil rig explosion

Divers retrieve remains of one of two missing workers from Gulf of Mexico platform, while four burnt men fight for lives

4 blast survivors under treatment in BR

Four shipyard workers badly burned in an explosion aboard a production platform Friday morning in the Gulf of Mexico off Louisiana remained under treatment Saturday at Baton Rouge General Medical Center-Mid City and its Regional Burn Center, hospital officials said.

EPA operating investigative division in BR

A group of environmental investigators in Baton Rouge has been quietly working on high-profile pollution cases.

Last year, the work of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Criminal Investigation Division office in Baton Rouge led to an $850,000 fine and 21-month prison sentence for a wastewater treatment facility owner in north Louisiana.

Nigeria Exxon spill spreads for miles along coast

IBENO, Nigeria (Reuters) – An oil spill at an ExxonMobil facility offshore from the Niger Delta has spread at least 20 miles from its source, coating waters used by fishermen in a film of sludge.

Vent wells burning gas from Louisiana sinkhole

BATON ROUGE — Officials said they’ve begun burning methane trapped in a water aquifer around a giant sinkhole in Assumption Parish. Burning the gas could help stabilize the salt dome, which released natural gas and crude oil as it collapsed near Bayou Corne.

For anti-gas drilling state lawmaker, DEP action is no joke

Opportunities to bash state legislators are all too few, so it was delightful to see the story about an apparent “gotcha” moment concerning one from western Pennsylvania.

Natural Gas’ hidden leakage issue?

While there are many celebratory about reduced U.S. emissions due to natural gas displacing coal, some voices caution that all may not be as it seems.  There is a hidden problem that may — or may not — be within the accounting.  Errant methane may blow away the claimed greenhouse gains from how much cleaner natural gas burns.

Longmont’s fracking ban vote crossed party lines

LONGMONT — When it came to fracking, the D’s and the R’s didn’t seem to matter that much.

A Longmont ballot issue that succeeded in banning hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, from the city caught hold in both Republican- and Democratic-leaning precincts, according to maps released last week by the Boulder County Clerk’s Office. Only five precincts in the city voted against Ballot Question 300; of those, three also backed Mitt Romney in the presidential race while two supported incumbent Barack Obama.

Illinois: Fracking Pair-adise?

The national debate on fracking—the drilling practice of injecting water, sand and chemicals at high pressure to release oil and natural gas from shale formations—has hit Illinois like a ton of bricks…or, maybe a mound of sand. While the Land of Lincoln isn’t exactly synonymous with oil and gas drilling, debate downstate and a looming decision from state regulators at the fringes of one of the state’s most popular parks underscore Illinois’ potentially unique position as a state doubly impacted by the energy boom: hosting fracking and the sand mines that feed the industry. Both have stirred growing concerns of pollution and worrisome industrialization of rural landscapes to go along with the revenue elected officials in the region desperately seek.

Joel Greeno: Fracking our Thanksgiving feast

My family has raised dairy cows on our farm in Monroe County near Kendall, Wis., for almost 150 years. We’ve weathered the Great Depression, low milk prices, droughts, floods, and snowstorms. Despite difficulties, the dairy and related industries generate $26.5 billion in revenue, 174,000 jobs, and fresh, healthy milk, cheese and butter for the state each year.

High radiation found in Fukushima’s fish

FUKUSHIMA, Japan, Nov. 17 (UPI) — Fish caught near Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant have radiation levels 100 times higher than normal, officials say.

20 Months After Nuclear Disaster, Japanese Town Struggles to Rebound

HIRONO, Japan—It has been more than a year since the evacuation order was lifted in this town near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, site of one of the worst environmental disasters in history, but Hirono Mayor Motohoshi Yamada still longs for the sound of children’s voices.

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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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