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David Hasemyer's articles

After 18 Years, Swan Song for the Deep Blue Democrat of the Texas Legislature

'I have a responsibility to investigate the failures of our state regulatory agencies,' says Rep. Lon Burnam, an opponent of unbridled oil development.

Oct 27, 2014

During his 18 years in office, Texas state representative Lon Burnam has been the odd man out in a legislature that overwhelmingly believes in business, development and the unbridled support of oil and gas.

During the last session of the House, he introduced more than a dozen pieces of legislation that would have required the industry to become a more responsible steward of the environment and the state to be more of an industry watchdog.

His record: Zero wins and 12 losses. 

In an interview with InsideClimate News last summer, when asked why he doesn't just move away, Burnam said he stays because Texas needs to hear from a Texan what the future holds for the environment if change isn't made.

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To Stop a Pipeline, Citizens Deploy Hundreds of Letters, and a Shotgun

'My brother in law told [the pipeline survey team] to leave and they did. He had a shotgun with him so they left quickly.'

Oct 20, 2014

People living along the proposed route of a natural gas pipeline through Michigan have been bombarding federal regulators with letters opposing the project planned by ET Rover Pipeline Company LLC. 

In the face of mounting opposition in one county, ET Rover, a subsidiary of Houston-based Energy Transfer Partners, quietly revised its plan and rerouted the pipeline north though two counties that were surprised to suddenly be dealing with the project. 

READ: Michigan Citizens Rise Up and Force a Gas Pipeline to Skirt Their County

The letter-writing campaign was directed at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the federal agency that will decide the project's fate. FERC is the lead agency responsible for conducting environmental reviews of proposed interstate pipelines, and as part of the process it allows time for the public to weigh in with comments. 

Michigan Citizens Rise Up and Force a Gas Pipeline to Skirt Their County

Strong, savvy opponents turned back a pipeline. Now they turn to help their neighbors do the same.

Oct 14, 2014

People in Michigan's Oakland County were ready this time. When a Texas-based company announced plans for a natural gas pipeline that would bisect the county, township boards in Oakland County passed resolutions against it. Rallies stirred locals to action. Federal regulators were bombarded with letters against the project.

With resistance gaining momentum, ET Rover Pipeline Company LLC, a subsidiary of Houston-based Energy Transfer Partners, quietly reversed its plans. Now people in neighboring Genesee and Lapeer counties—the new path of the pipeline—are reeling, and asking the winners for help.

Two months after ET Rover revealed maps showing that its pipeline would cut across pubic land and through backyards in Oakland County—and only a few weeks after the first opposition appeared–ET Rover chose an alternative route north that touches only a tiny slice of Oakland County.

"We weren't going to let this happen again," said Kathy Thurman, the Brandon Township supervisor who heard from community members that they'd had enough of the turmoil caused by earlier pipeline projects. Brandon Township is in Oakland County.

$2.9 Million Fracking Verdict Against Texas Oil Company Survives Another Challenge

Judge denies Aruba's request for new trial in case involving Texas family suffering from noxious air emissions. Aruba says it will appeal.

Sep 16, 2014

The stage has been set for an appeal of a high profile verdict against a Texas oil and gas company after a judge refused to grant a new trial in the case of a family sickened by noxious air emissions.

Judge Mark Greenberg has denied a motion by Aruba Petroleum for a new trial, letting stand the $2.9 million jury award to Lisa and Bob Parr who sued the company after gas and oil wells surrounded their once rural ranch south of Dallas.

Greenberg's one sentence order didn't offer a reason for his decision. It simply said: "Aruba Petroleum's motion for new trial is ... denied."

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

Texas has a two-year statute of limitations, which means people have just two years from the time they notice a problem until they file a lawsuit.

Sep 9, 2014

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.

The difficulty is that Texas has a two-year statute of limitations, which means people have just two years from the time they become aware of a problem until the time they file a lawsuit. The Eagle Ford Shale boom in Karnes County began in 2012, bringing it with it thousands of oil and gas wells and the kinds of emissions that Mike and Myra Cerny said made them sick.

For people in the Eagle Ford Shale, where the Cernys live, that means time is ticking to near zero, said Thomas McGarity, a University of Texas law school professor who specializes in environmental and administrative law.

Oil and Gas Wastewater Pits Draw Fine for Toxic Releases

Facility in Utah doubles in size without a proper permit for emissions of volatile organic compounds, including benzene, toluene and xylene.

Sep 3, 2014

A commercial facility that disposes of oil and gas waste in Eastern Utah has been fined $50,000 for releasing excessive amounts of benzene and other volatile organic compounds without a state air emissions permit.

Rusty Ruby, compliance manager for Utah's Division of Air Quality Compliance, said the agency doesn't have "a lot of experience" when it comes to regulating waste pits because so little is known about them, a problem common in other states where hydraulic fracturing is generating vast quantities of contaminated waste water.  

"It's not like a smokestack that you can get a pretty good idea of what's coming out," Ruby said.

In this case, the violation became clear when Utah officials discovered that Danish Flats Environmental Services had nearly doubled the size of its operation without obtaining an emissions permit.  Ruby said the Colorado-based firm's unpermitted operation was exceeding emissions regulations under the federal Clean Air Act and state law.

Enbridge Faces Maximum Fine of $86 Million for Kalamazoo Spill

The company told regulators in a filing it expects to pay at least $22 million. The EPA, which will assess the fine, is mum.

Aug 28, 2014

12:30 PM ET on 8/28/204: This story has been updated with information from the EPA.

Pipeline giant Enbridge, Inc. has almost finished cleaning up its 2010 spill that sent hundreds of thousands of gallons of heavy crude oil into Michigan's Kalamazoo River.

Now the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency must decide how much it will fine Enbridge for causing one of the biggest inland oil spills in U.S. history.

Enbridge spokesman Larry Springer declined to speculate on the amount of the fine. But according to the company's filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission last year, Enbridge expects it will be at least $22 million.

"Discussions are ongoing with the relevant government agencies, and it is premature to discuss negotiations at this time," Springer said.

Judge Throws Out Texas Family's Fracking Pollution Case

Dismissal is in contrast to a case in which a jury awarded $2.9 million to a family who also claimed to be sickened by fracking's emissions.

Aug 15, 2014

A Texas judge has dismissed a million dollar lawsuit filed by a Karnes County, Texas, family who say their lives have been ruined by noxious emissions from oil and gas facilities near their home.

District Judge Stella Saxon apparently accepted the argument made by Marathon Oil Corp. and Plains Exploration & Production (PXP) that Mike and Myra Cerny didn't have enough medical and scientific evidence to prove to a jury that they have been sickened by oil field emissions.

Marathon applauded the ruling, while the Cernys' attorney said he'll file an appeal. Legal experts say the dismissal could have a chilling effect on others who may be considering legal action against the oil and gas industry.

The dismissal in Karnes County stands in stark contrast to a case in Dallas County earlier this year in which a jury awarded $2.9 million to a family who also claimed to be sickened by emissions. That two similar cases could have such different outcomes highlights vagaries of both the justice and regulatory system in Texas, where the oil and gas industry is widely praised and supported.

Fracking Companies Fight Texas Families' Air Pollution Suits, Fearing Precedent

If two Texas couples win their cases, it could change the assumption that ordinary people can't stand up to the industry, legal expert says.

Aug 13, 2014

Two major oil companies have asked a Texas judge to dismiss a civil lawsuit that could draw new attention to the toxic air emissions from oil and gas production.

The lawsuit was filed last year by Mike and Myra Cerny, who say they can't enjoy the use of their home because of the benzene, toluene and other toxic chemicals released from nearby facilities owned by Marathon and Plains Exploration & Production (PXP). The Cernys are using the same argument that helped another Texas family, Bob and and Lisa Parr, win a groundbreaking, $2.9 million judgment against Aruba Petroleum last April: That the emissions created a nuisance that made their lives unbearable.

Air emissions are increasingly recognized as a problem in drilling areas throughout United States, with residents complaining of coughing, headaches, nosebleeds, rashes and dizziness. But lawsuits linking gas and oil production to health problems have been considered almost unwinnable, because few scientific studies have been done on how the industry’s emissions might affect human health.

Jane Barrett, director of the University of Maryland's Environmental Law Clinic, said that if the Parrs and Cerneys succeed, their cases could change the assumption that ordinary people can't stand up to the industry.

Barrett compared the two Texas cases with early lawsuits filed against the tobacco industry, which was once seen as immune to charges that it was responsible for the harmful effects of cigarettes.   

Bakken Oil Pipeline Would Bisect Minnesota, Cross 144 Waterways

Enbridge says it consulted with regulatory agencies and communities for a year and a half to select the best route, which faces intense public opposition.

Aug 6, 2014

Retired first grade teacher Beth Baker-Knuttila has so much she wants to tell the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission about why adding an oil pipeline near her beloved Portage Lake isn't a good idea.

On Thursday she'll have just three minutes to try to convince the PUC to reject a proposed Enbridge, Inc. pipeline that would cut across 144 lakes, streams and rivers, and skirt the shores of the Park Rapids lake that has been her home for 35 years.

The 616–mile Sandpiper pipeline is one of the first major pipelines designed to carry crude oil out of the booming Bakken Shale region of North Dakota. 

It will begin in the northwest corner of North Dakota and cross into Minnesota then pass 299 miles through the heart of the state to Superior, Wisc. Once running, it could carry nearly 10 million gallons of crude oil a day—an estimated 20 percent of the oil produced in the Bakken—to refineries in the Midwest and East and Canada.

Beth Baker-Knuttila stands in front of Portage Lake. Credit: Baker-KnuttilaBeth Baker-Knuttila stands in front of Portage Lake. Credit: Baker-Knuttila"There's just so much at stake here," Baker-Knuttila said. "It's not just about my home. It's about protecting the beautiful natural resources against some tragic accident."