The battle over oil train regulation is heating up, as both the oil and gas industry and a coalition of environmental groups have now filed lawsuits challenging new Department of Transportation regulations this week.
Environmentalists filed a motion requesting a preliminary injunction today in a California court to immediately stop the daily illegal injection of millions of gallons of oil field wastewater into protected groundwater aquifers in the state.
Last week, Earthjustice filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity in Alameda County Superior Court that challenges California regulators’ emergency rules meant to rein in the state’s disastrous Underground Injection Control (UIC) program.
DeSmogBlog has obtained dozens of emails that lend an inside view of how the U.S. State Department secretly handed Enbridge a permit to expand the capacity of its U.S.-Canada border-crossing Alberta Clipper pipeline, which carries tar sands diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) from Alberta to midwest markets.
The State Department submitted the emails into the record in the ongoing case filed against the Department by the Sierra Club and other environmental groups in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota. Collectively, the emails show that upper-level State Department officials hastened the review process on behalf of Enbridge for its proposed Alberta Clipper expansion plan, now rebranded Line 67, and did not inform the public about it until it published its final approval decision in the Federal Register in August 2014.
According to a March 17, 2014 memo initially marked “confidential,” Enbridge's legal counsel at Steptoe & Johnson, David Coburn, began regular communications with the State Department on what the environmental groups have dubbed an “illegal scheme” beginning in at least January 2014.
Image Credit: U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota
Environmental groups have coined the approval process an “illegal scheme” because the State Department allowed Enbridge to usurp the conventional presidential permit process for cross-border pipelines, as well as the standard National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process, which allows for public comments and public hearings of the sort seen for TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline.
Further, the scheme is a complex one involving Enbridge's choice to add pressure pump stations on both sides of the border to two pipelines, Enbridge Line 3 and Enbridge Line 67, to avoid fitting under the legal umbrella of a “cross-border” pipeline.
Hastening the approval process — and thus dodging both the conventional presidential permit and NEPA process — came up in a June 6, 2014 memo written by Coburn and his Steptoe co-counsel Josh Runyan. Enbridge's legal argument centered around ensuring profits for its customers “consistent with its obligations as a common carrier.”
Image Credit: U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota
In December 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released long-awaited coal ash safety standards designed to increase the reliability of coal ash disposal sites. These standards had been years in the making, but stopped short of classifying coal ash as a hazardous waste material, which many advocates had been hoping for.
The new standards enacted by the EPA require stricter structural integrity standards for new coal ash disposal sites, and mandate that the ash ponds not be located near sensitive environmental areas such as wetlands or near fault lines. They also ramped up the inspection and compliance standards for existing disposal sites. The new standards also require coal companies to publicly disclose disposal operations.
While all of these new requirements are fairly common sense steps, coal industry-funded politicians in Washington are not happy, and one month after announcing the new standards, they began launching their attack to undo them.
Leading the charge is Republican Representative David McKinley from West Virginia. McKinley sponsored legislation earlier this year that would strip the public disclosure portion of the rules and allow states to take over the permitting process for coal ash disposal site construction, effectively pushing the EPA out of the way.
Chevron has already lost the lawsuit filed against the company by a group of Indigenous villagers and rural Ecuadorians who say Texaco, which merged with Chevron in 2001, left behind hundreds of open, unlined pits full of toxic oil waste it had dug into the floor of the Amazon rainforest.
That hasn’t stopped the oil titan from attempting to retry the case, though, in both the court of public opinion and a New York court, where it counter-sued the Ecuadorian plaintiffs under the RICO Act, claiming their original lawsuit was nothing more than extortion.
But new videos released by an anonymous Chevron whistleblower undermine the company’s entire defense in the original suit as well as its RICO counterattack.
Chevron’s defense in the Ecuador pollution case hinges on the company’s assertion that, before leaving the country when its partnership with state-owned Petroecuador ended in the early 1990s, Texaco remediated a portion of the 350 drill sites and more than 900 associated waste pits, as per its agreement with the Ecuadorean government.
The Ecuadorian plaintiffs argue that, as the sole operator of those drilling operations, Chevron/Texaco is liable for the carcinogenic oil contamination of watercourses, soil and groundwater that leached out of the waste pits and overflowed into local streams and rivers. After inheriting Texaco’s liability, Chevron countered that it had fulfilled its obligations per the terms of its partnership and that the plaintiffs’ real target should be Petroecuador, which Chevron blames for the pollution.
In 2011, Chevron lost the court battle in Ecuador — the venue Chevron itself chose — and was ordered to pay $9.5 billion to clean up its oil pollution in the Amazon. But Chevron had already infamously vowed “We will fight until hell freezes over and then fight it out on the ice,” and the company has been true to its word. Only now has evidence emerged to show just how dirty Chevron was fighting.
“These videos prove Chevron knew full well their ‘remediated’ sites were still contaminated before the trial in Ecuador had even finished,” Amazon Watch’s Paul Paz said in a statement to DeSmogBlog. “Rather than admit that and help people who would be affected, they hid what they knew and denied it to the courts and to the world. Worse than that, they went on to blame the very same people affected by their waste as making it all up to extort money from Chevron.”
The only lawsuit seeking to overturn any of the local fracking bans in the state of California has been dropped.
Southern California-based Citadel Exploration filed a suit on February 27 against San Benito County’s Measure J, which voters approved by a wide margin last November despite the oil and gas industry outspending its opponents 13-to-1 in an attempt to defeat the measure.
Citadel had called Measure J an “illegal local statutory scheme” and argued that only the state has the right to regulate oil and gas development, according to the San Jose Mercury News. The company has not released any further statements or responded to requests for comment on why it chose to drop the suit.
But anti-fracking activists and others who have worked on the fracking bans have their own theories.
“It's pretty clear to me now that the oil industry was bluffing,” Andy Hsia-Coron, a retired schoolteacher who helped run the Measure J campaign, told the San Jose Mercury News. “As they examined their hand, they realized it was pretty weak.”
Late last year, it came to light that Shell had been warned repeatedly by its own staff that the Trans Niger Pipeline was at significant risk of failure well before a 2008 spill of 500,000 barrels of oil. It was also revealed that Shell had drastically understated the extent of the spill.
These revelations were made during the proceedings of a lawsuit brought by a group of 15,000 Nigerians over a second spill from the same pipeline and helped lead to a much heftier payment by the company to the Bodo community in the Niger Delta in compensation for the impacts of both spills.
It would appear that the company has still not managed to correct whatever problems are leading to its poor safety and environmental performance in Nigeria, however, as Shell was responsible for more than 200 oil spills in the country last year alone, according to a new report by Amnesty International.
As horrible as Shell’s record is, Italian oil giant ENI managed to outdo the Hague-based multinational oil and gas titan. ENI's operations caused nearly 350 spills last year even though it operates in a much smaller area, the report states.
“These figures are seriously alarming. ENI has clearly lost control over its operations in the Niger Delta. And despite all its promises, Shell has made no progress on tackling oil spills,” Audrey Gaughran, Amnesty International’s Global Issues Director, said in a statement.
“In any other country, this would be a national emergency. In Nigeria it appears to be standard operating procedure for the oil industry. The human cost is horrific — people living with pollution every day of their lives.”
The media will finally get a glimpse into the criminal activity of former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship, as a federal appeals court has decided to lift a gag order that had been in place on the court proceedings that began with a criminal indictment against Blankenship in November 2014.
The gag order prevented the court proceedings from being made public, and barred the participants in the suit from speaking to the media. But the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals said that the order could not be sustained any longer, following a lawsuit by media outlets in the U.S.
Blankenship was indicted in November of last year on a host of charges, including conspiracy to violate mine safety and health laws, conspiracy to impede federal mine safety officials, making false statements to the SEC, and securities fraud. These activities that Blankenship allegedly participated in are what led to the 2010 Upper Big Branch mine explosion that claimed the lives of 29 miners. Blankenship retired from Massey eight months after the explosion.
The Brad Blog has more:
While much of the attention paid to the Gulf Coast in recent years has focused on BP’s destruction of the Gulf of Mexico and the coastline, it is important to remember that the fossil fuel industry has been polluting the South for decades.
In fact, the problem is so bad that the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East filed a lawsuit against 97 fossil fuel companies two years ago to force them to pay for the destruction that they have caused to the Louisiana coast.
The lawsuit seemed almost doomed from the start: Republican Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal signed legislation in 2014 that forbade the lawsuit from moving forward, but this legislation was later ruled unconstitutional and thrown out.
As Climate Progress points out, the growing concern among Louisiana citizens is that their coastline is disappearing: More than 1,900 square miles of coast line has vanished in the last 85 years, and the fossil fuel industry has been responsible for polluting what’s left. The industry has even admitted it is responsible for at least 36% of the total wetland loss in the state of Louisiana. The State Department estimates that the wells drilled by the dirty energy industry are destroying as much as 59% of the coast.
An admission of liability, hard facts, and the protection of the public’s well being should have been enough to make this case a slam-dunk for any seasoned attorney. Unfortunately, the dirty energy industry has powerful connections all over the South – from politicians to judges – and those connections have resulted in the dismissal of the lawsuit.
In mid-February, U.S. District Judge Nanette Jolivette Brown tossed the suit, after the industry successful lobbied to have the case moved from a state judge to a federal judge. This action, known as venue-shopping, allows a defendant to search for a more friendly judge before the case is heard, and Judge Brown is about as friendly with the industry as a judge ever could be.
Before her appointment to a federal judgeship by President Obama (confirmed unanimously by the U.S. Senate), Judge Brown spent decades as a corporate attorney, working for firms that regularly represented the dirty energy industry in matters of environmental litigation.
During her time in practice, she worked at the law firms of Adams & Reese, the Onebane Law Firm, Milling, Benson, & Woodward, and the Chaffe McCall law firm. The McCall firm’s website says the following about its oil and gas representation:
Meaningful action to mitigate the impacts of climate change have been slow to materialize in the United States, and that lag in leadership is allowing the threat to grow much worse for future generations of Americans.
But political inaction has led to citizen action, particularly among the generations that will face the consequences of inaction. And they are making the case, literally, that the government needs to take action.
Teenagers Kelsey Juliana and Olivia Chernaik have filed a lawsuit against Democratic Oregon governor John Kitzhaber and the entire state government of Oregon, alleging that they are not doing enough to address the threats of climate change.