Tue, 2014-03-11 05:00Sharon Kelly
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Fracking in Public Forests Leaves Long Trail of Damages, Struggling State Regulators

Last Wednesday, the Washington D.C. city council passed a resolution opposing fracking in the George Washington National Forest, making the nation’s capitol the third major U.S. city, after Los Angeles and Dallas, to decry the hazards of shale drilling in recent days.

The D.C. council’s resolution called on the U.S. Forest Service to prohibit horizontal hydraulic fracturing in the forest’s headwaters of the Potomac River, the sole source of water for the nation’s capital, citing the risks of pollution and the costs of monitoring for contamination.

It is unclear whether the DC City Council vote will hold any sway in determining the actual fate of the forest. The decision whether to permit fracking there primarily rests with the U.S. Forest Service, which is currently updating its long-term management plan for the George Washington National Forest.

As the debate over shale drilling intensifies in the nation’s capitol and across the country, Pennsylvania offers useful lessons for how states have mishandled their forests. Pennsylvania has been ground zero for Marcellus shale development and roughly two thirds of Pennsylvania’s state forest land lies above the Marcellus shale, one of the largest shale plays in the U.S.

Cornell University Professor Anthony Ingraffea recently reviewed state data on environmental violations in Pennsylvania state forests, including the 100,000-acre Loyalsock forest in the north central part of the state, a popular tourist destination and the focus of a local controversy over fracking.

What Mr. Ingraffea found highlights the hazards of drilling and demonstrates how a powerful industry can overwhelm regulators’ capacity to protect against environmental harms.

State regulators, the data revealed, have been unable to adequately keep tabs on drilling on state lands.

Over 59 percent of the Marcellus wells already drilled in the Loyalsock had never been inspected, Prof. Ingraffea found, and over a quarter of wells on state lands had no inspection reports available to the public.

Mon, 2014-03-10 16:23Julie Dermansky
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Green Army Prepares to Battle Louisiana Legislators To Protect Water From Oil Industry Threats

The Green Army, a group representing environmental and social justice organizations led by retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, met on the steps of the state capitol for a rally preceding the start of Louisiana's legislative session which begins today. Their demonstration, called a “Water Festival,” was a cry to protect Louisiana's water.

Mon, 2014-03-10 15:58Farron Cousins
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Environmental Review Thrown Out By House Legislation

The U.S. House of Representatives is serious about job creation.  So serious, in fact, that they are willing to sacrifice a healthy environment just so corporations have the “potential” to create new jobs without having to worry about all of that burdensome red tape that so often comes with environmental safety standards.

In a move last week, the House passed the Responsibly and Professionally Invigorating Development Act (RAPID Act – HR 2641), which will put hard deadlines on environmental reviews required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), typically carried out by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 

Republicans in the House claimed that the bill was aimed at preventing the EPA from stalling projects that could create jobs for American citizens.  They said that environmental reviews, which are required by law, can hold projects up for years, and they believe that this is a cost that the economy simply cannot afford.  If signed into law, the bill will limit environmental reviews to a firm 18 months, with only 36 months to complete an environmental impact statement.

The White House indicated that, if the legislation were to reach the President’s desk, he would most certainly veto it.  The Hill quotes the White House as saying; “H.R. 2641 will increase litigation, regulatory delays, and potentially force agencies to approve a project if the review and analysis cannot be completed before the proposed arbitrary deadlines.”

The bill passed the House largely on party lines, with all Republican members and only 12 Democratic members voting in favor.  A provision of the bill will allow projects for which an environmental review could not be completed in time to receive automatic approval.  Democratic Representative Sheila Jackson Lee proposed an amendment to strip this provision of the bill, but it failed to pass.

Another amendment, proposed by Republican Representative David McKinley from West Virginia, specifically prohibits regulatory agencies from considering “social costs of carbon” in their reviews.  This amendment passed and was included in the final bill.

The Republicans are not wrong in claiming that environmental reviews can hold up projects for years, but there are two very good reasons why this happens.

Mon, 2014-03-10 06:00Steve Horn
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Testimony Reveals Record 36% of North Dakota Fracked Gas Was Flared in December

The recent March 6 House Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power hearing titled “Benefits of and Challenges to Energy Access in the 21st Century: Fuel Supply and Infrastructure” never had over 100 online viewers watching the livestream at any point in time. And it unfolded in an essentially empty room. 

But the poor attendance record had no relation to the gravity of the facts presented by testifiers. Among other things, one presenter revealed 36 percent of the gas by-product from oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in North Dakota's Bakken Shale basin was flared off as waste during a brutally cold midwest winter with no end in sight.

These damning facts were brought forward by Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (Ceres) Oil & Gas and Insurance Programs Director Andrew Logan, one of eight people called to testify around topics ranging from domestic propane markets to fossil fuels-by-rail markets, to pipeline markets and flaring. 

A topic covered previously by DeSmogBlog, Logan submitted to the Subcommittee that flaring “is getting worse, not better.”

“Flaring in North Dakota hit 36% in December, a new record,” Logan told the subcommittee“This means that more than 1/3 of all natural gas produced in the state is going up in smoke, at the same time as consumers around the country are seeing price spikes from natural gas in this cold winter, along with actual shortages of propane in many places.”

Logan also said that wasteful flaring is also a growing quagmire in Texas, which has seen a 10-fold increase in flaring permits since 2010.

At least one influential Subcommittee member has taken notice.

Sun, 2014-03-09 06:00Ben Jervey
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Canada Approves Enbridge Line 9 Reversal: Tar Sands Crude to Flow to Montreal

Alberta’s tar sands crude has a new route east. 

Canada’s National Energy Board announced on Thursday the approval of Enbridge’s request to reverse and expand a portion of the company’s Line 9 pipeline to allow for crude to flow east to Montreal, Quebec. This follows a July 2012 decision by the NEB to allow reversal of the western Line 9 segment from West Northover to Sarnia, Ontario. As a result, in the words of the NEB, “Enbridge will be permitted to operate all of Line 9 in an eastward direction in order to transport crude oil from western Canada and the U.S. Bakken region to refineries in Ontario and Quebec.”

Canadian activists urged the NEB to fully consider the high risk and small reward of reversing the pipeline, pointing to the “DilBit Disaster” — when another reversed-flow Enbridge pipeline spilled over 800,000 gallons of diluted bitumen into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River — as a warning for what could occur on the Line 9 route.

As DeSmog Canada has reported, Enbridge’s Line 9 shares the same design deficiencies as the company’s Line 6B, which burst in Michigan. Canadian environmental groups are crying foul over the agency’s non-transparent and restrictive public comment process.

It’s pretty obvious the entire regulatory system is broken,” Adam Scott, spokesperson for Environmental Defence, told the Vancouver Observer. “They restricted the public’s ability to even participate.” Language in a 2012 budget bill allowed the NEB’s decision to be made without a comprehensive environmental assessment, and the Canadian public was forced to complete a lengthy 10-page application (and given a short two week warning to do so) to even earn the right to submit a public comment.

There were roughly 150 folks who were actually even allowed to comment or write a letter, and this was also the first major energy project not to have to go through an environmental assessment, so it’s clear the whole system has been stacked against the public’s interest in favour of oil companies,” said Scott.

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