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Wed, 2014-05-07 05:55Julie Dermansky
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Residents Deliver Petition to Ban Fracking to City Hall in Denton, Texas

A petition to ban hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” in Denton, Texas, is being submitted to City Hall today, paving the way for Denton to become the first city in Texas to prohibit the controversial method of extracting natural gas.

Members of the Denton Drilling Awareness Group, who are pushing for a ballot initiative, collected more than 1,871 signatures in support of a fracking ban within Denton city limits — three times more than were required and just 300 shy of the number of ballots cast in the last municipal election.

Once the signatures are certified, the city council will have to vote on the proposed ban. If council adopts a ban, fracking will be illegal inside Denton's city limits. If council votes against the ban, the initiative will likely be on the ballot in November, giving the public a chance to vote on the matter.

We hope the council will vote to approve the ban,” said Ed Soph, a member of the Denton Awareness Group. “But at a minimum, we hope they’ll respect their constituents and allow the Denton residents a chance to vote on the ban, not try to block it on a legal technicality.”

Tue, 2014-05-06 05:28Julie Dermansky
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Louisiana Residents Gear Up For Fracking Fight Just Outside New Orleans

Fracking protest sign

In mid-April, word started spreading like wildfire among Louisiana residents: Helis Oil & Gas LLC wants to drill a well in search of oil and gas on a 960-acre tract of land about 30 miles from New Orleans, in the Mandeville area.

Helis plans to use hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to extract oil and gas from the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale (PDF), which holds an estimated 7 billion barrels of oil beneath the Southern Hills aquifer, which extends from St.Tammany to beyond Baton Rouge and well into Mississippi.

On April 16, residents packed a meeting, expressing fear and outrage about the proposed drilling. Right away, they learned two things: firstly, that they’re up against Louisiana's strong laws protecting the oil and gas industry. And secondly, that there’s no time to waste.

On May 13, the Department of Natural Resources’ office of conservation, which regulates oil and gas drilling in Louisiana, will hold a hearing to consider issuing a unit permit — the first step in the permitting process.

Rep. Tim Burns, R-Mandeville, asked to delay the permitting process, but was denied.

“There is no legal provision to take the scheduled hearing off the docket,” Patrick Courreges, communications director for the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, told DeSmogBlog.

As for what could prevent the permit from being issued, the short answer, according to Courreges, is geology, not the public's concerns about fracking.

Wed, 2014-04-23 15:07Julie Dermansky
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Barnett Shale Fracking Victims Win First Round in Court Battle with Gas Industry

Legal tremors are reverberating in the Barnett Shale region in Texas after yesterday's $2.925 million dollar verdict in favor of the plaintiffs Bob and Lisa Parr, who sued Aruba Petroleum for damages to their health and the devaluation of their home in a fracking nuisance case.

Earthworks energy program director Bruce Baizel stated in a press release that the jury’s decision is important for two reasons:

When evidence of fracking’s impacts are shown to an impartial jury in a court of law, they find them to be real and significant. And it shows why the fracking industry is reluctant to allow lawsuits of this type to go to trial. Instead fracking companies try to force out of court settlements that gag the harmed family as a condition for financial compensation. They almost always succeed, hiding from the public the proof of fracking’s dangers. Consequently, industry and government continue claiming fracking is harmless. We hope this lawsuit will make regulators, in Texas and around the country, reexamine their assumptions about fracking’s dangers, and their responsibility to keep the public safe.”

The Parrs were part of an Earthworks' study entitled “Natural Gas Flowback: The Dark Side of the Boom.” The study complied data on the health effects of hydraulic fracking and gas industry activities in the Barnett Shale.

According to the report, Lisa Parr's blood and lungs were tested by Dr. William Rae of the Environmental Health Center in Dallas. The report states that Dr. Rae “found more than 20 chemicals, including six that matched the VOCs detected by TCEQ’s air sampling of the well site.”

The Parrs’ neighbors, the Ruggieros, also had to deal with the health consequences and nuisances caused by Aruba Petroleum’s operations including noise and air pollution. They settled and signed a confidentiality agreement. Though Tim Ruggiero doesn't discuss the settlement or Aruba Petroleum, he wrote a personal essay, “Leaving Gasland,” concluding that for him “Leaving Gasland is not winning, it’s merely an end to losing.”

Aruba Petroleum released a statement to ThinkProgress today stating, “The facts of the case and the law as applied to those facts do not support the verdict,” and that “Aruba is an experienced oil and gas operator that is in compliance within the air quality limits set by the Texas Railroad Commission and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.”  

The Parr case has already started to redefine what winning can look like, even though Aruba Petroleum is likely to appeal.

“We hope this lawsuit will make regulators, in Texas and around the country, reexamine their assumptions about fracking’s dangers, and their responsibility to keep the public safe,” Baizel says.

Here is a slide show of images taken in the Barnett Shale region in Texas.

Tue, 2014-04-22 11:50Julie Dermansky
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In Celebration of Earth Day: Photos Capture the Beauty of Southeastern Louisiana's Wetlands

Louisiana's wetlands are threatened by coastal erosion, climate change and the oil and gas industry.

The Green Army, a group representing environmental and social justice organizations led by retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honore is trying to stop bills they believe stand in the way of preserving Louisiana's disappearing coast, including bills that would kill the lawsuit filed by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East that would require 97 oil and gas companies to pay for their share of the damage the industry has done to the coast.

Governor Bobby Jindal has pushed to derail the lawsuit by backing legislation that is undermining the levee board. So far the Green Army has not been able to sway the legislators from dismantling the lawsuit that many believe could save the coast.

Many of the bills set to derail the lawsuit have already passed in the Senate but Michael Orr, operations coordinator of Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN) points out they haven't been heard in the House yet.  “There is still a chance to kill them” he told DeSmogBlog.  “I feel the battle is RE-enfranchising the public to believe that things can change, that we can win and that they can make a difference. And honestly I do feel like we can win this. And we surely cannot afford to lose. ” Orr says. 

Here is a slideshow celebrating the richness of the coastal wetland environment.

Mon, 2014-04-21 14:14Julie Dermansky
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Four Years After the BP Oil Disaster, A Look Back in Photographs

Just prior to the four-year anniversary of the BP oil spill, BP and the Coast Guard issued press releases. BP announced the  “active cleanup” in Louisiana is over, while the Coast Guard stated the clean up response is far from over.  “We are absolutely committed to continuing the clean-up of Deepwater Horizon oil along the Gulf - for as long as it takes,” Coast Guard Capt. Thomas Sparks wrote. 

The Washington Post reported on the “dueling press releases.”  But Geoff Morrell, BP Senior Vice President for US Communications & External Affairs, told DeSmogBlog,  

“We have never suggested the work of the U.S. Coast Guard or BP is over. Our announcement Tuesday merely highlighted the end of active clean up of the Gulf shoreline. We believe that is a very significant achievement that resulted from four years of sustained work with the USCG. However, that accomplishment has not in any way diminished our commitment to the Gulf. To the contrary, we will continue to work with the USCG, primarily in responding to reports of any residual Macondo oil and taking action where removal is required.”

BP's claim that it would  “make things right” still echoes from its advertising campaign. But scaling back clean-up operations means the burden of oil sighting reports will fall more on the public. The Gulf Restoration Network, a nonprofit environmental group, is dismayed. GRN spokesman Raleigh Hoke told the Washington Post,  “It’s clearly premature to end the active cleanup.” 

Plaquemines Parish Coastal Zone Director P. J. Hahn, who continues to monitor the effects of the BP spill, pointed out last year that oil sightings come from fishermen and environmental groups more often than from the Coast Guard or BP.

Hahn has led a crusade to save two barrier islands that were bird rookeries before the spill. For the first two years after the spill, the birds returned, but by 2013 the birds had almost nowhere left to nest and abandoned the islands.  

The oil that hit the island killed the roots of marsh grass and mangrove trees that held the islands together, speeding up coastal erosion that was already eating away at the islands.

By now, the islands have all but disappeared.  No birds were found on the two islands this year that have all but disappeared. Instead Hahn and reporter Bob Marshall found some birds nesting on another barrier island nearby in a rookery that is not nearly as large as the ones that Hahn still hopes to restore. 

How prepared are oil companies and the Coast Guard for spills?

DeSmogBlog put that question to Dr. Riki Ott, a marine toxicologist and Exxon Valdez survivor who has been monitoring the Valdez oil spill. Ott says, “We are less prepared now to respond to an oil spill than we were 25 years ago.”

Thu, 2014-04-17 08:00Julie Dermansky
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Insect Population Dwindling in Louisiana Marshlands Four Years After BP Blowout

Louisiana State University entomologist Linda Hooper-Bui has been studying the impact of the BP oil spill on insects and spiders for almost four years. She started her study shortly after the Macondo well blew out on April 20, 2010, before any oil washed up on shore. Her work documents the dwindling of the insect population in areas directly hit with the oil.

On April 9th, she returned to Bay Jimmy and Bay Baptiste, areas that were heavily impacted by the oil spill in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana.

“Insects are the basis of the food chain. They are like nature's Twinkies,” Hooper-Bui says.

Her studies also monitor fish and birds, since they eat insects. She sweeps areas designated for her study by walking back and forth waving a net, catching whatever insects are present.  She then empties the net into alcohol, preserving the insects for testing. She takes note of the wind speed and temperature at each location and collects a sample of sediment to be tested for hydrocarbons.


Weathered oil found coating the surface of the marsh in Bay Baptiste, Louisiana on April 9, 2014. ©2014 Julie Dermansky

Back in the lab, Hooper-Bui sorts insects by species. She sends some out for testing and stores the rest so other scientists can study them. The results of the test reveal the nutrients found in them, including carbon, nitrogen and sulfur. Knowing what the insects are eating helps her evaluate changes in the environment. She compares the data from sites that were oiled to those that were not.

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