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One Man's Mission to Curb Illegal Dumping of Texas Frack Waste

'If I can make this a better place for people to live, then I have done my job.'

Jul 1, 2014

ALICE, Texas—Deputy Sheriff Hector Zertuche parked his pickup across the road from a gas and oil waste dump and watched through binoculars as a container truck unloaded a mountain of black sludge.

Zertuche, the environmental crimes officer for Jim Wells County, is the law here when it comes to oil and gas waste. The job has fallen to him, he said, because the state's environmental agencies don't effectively police the disposal of the industry's waste. It typically contains benzene and other chemicals found in hydraulic fracturing, along with heavy metals and other contaminants from deep within the earth.

Zertuche draws his authority from the Texas Oil and Gas Waste Haulers Act, which is part of the state Water Code and is rooted in laws enacted almost a century ago during an earlier oil boom. It allows him to issue citations for everything from spilling waste along highways to not having the proper disposal permits.

"I want to make a difference for the people who live here," Zertuche said recently, as he waited outside the 80-acre Eco Mud Disposal facility. "If I can make this a better place for people to live, then I have done my job."

Will Gov. Chris Christie Re-embrace Cap & Trade in Wake of EPA Rule?

The decision over whether to rejoin RGGI could depend on Christie's presidential prospects, and whether he believes they're fading.

Jun 30, 2014

Three years ago New Jersey's governor peremptorily walked out on the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, saying the novel cap-and-trade scheme for Northeast power plants wasn't right for his state.

Now Gov. Chris Christie finds himself under pressure from several forces—including the Obama administration and local grassroots groups—to return to RGGI's embrace.

"It's the obvious thing for New Jersey to do," said Seth Kaplan of the Conservation Law Foundation. "All you need to do is pick up the phone and say, 'whoops, sorry!'"

When the Environmental Protection Agency proposed new rules on June 2 cracking down on carbon dioxide emissions from existing fossil fuel plants, the agency suggested that one of the smartest ways for states to meet its targets would be to form multistate emissions markets –or to join existing ones, like RGGI. The flexibility to trade carbon allowances would lower compliance costs, the agency said.

Arkansas Spill Pollution Case Against Exxon Can Proceed, Court Says

Potentially potent lawsuit claiming Exxon violated pollution laws after its 2013 Mayflower oil pipeline spill survives dismissal attempts.

Jun 30, 2014

Federal and state attorneys who sued ExxonMobil Corp. over its Arkansas pipeline spill have won court rulings to keep the lawsuit alive and to deny the company's attempt to limit the information it must provide in the case.

The rulings, which came earlier this month, represent a critical step forward for a case that has moved slowly since it was filed a year ago. The lawsuit, filed June 13, 2013 in U.S. District Court in Little Rock, Ark., accuses Exxon of violating federal and state air and water pollution laws as well as Arkansas' hazardous waste regulations.

U.S. District Judge Kristine G. Baker on June 9 rejected Exxon's request to have the lawsuit dismissed, concluding that the governments had sufficient grounds to proceed with the case. In a separate ruling, she ordered the oil company to provide opposing attorneys with overdue documents and other requested information by July 10. Baker also said that Exxon must disclose its current estimate for how much oil was spilled, and must comply with requests for information about the entire length of the 858-mile Pegasus pipeline, not just a portion of it.

Major New Pipeline Proposed Next to Enbridge Line That Ruptured in 2010

ET Rover Pipeline Company has set a date of June 2017 to have the natural gas pipeline, which will cross Ohio and Michigan, running.

Jun 27, 2014

The wild grass is only now beginning to hide the scar left by the giant ditch digger that gouged a trench though Ron Kardos' Oceola Township, Mich. pasture last year for an oil pipeline—but already Kardos is preparing for another onslaught of construction.

Earlier this week Kardos got a letter from Energy Transfer Partners, a Houston, Texas-based company, saying a subsidiary—ET Rover Pipeline Company LLC—intends to build an interstate pipeline to move natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica shale gas formations in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio to a terminal in Ontario, Canada.

The 365-mile Rover Pipeline will cross Ohio and Michigan and ultimately carry 3.25 billion cubic feet per day if plans are approved. Much of the line would follow the route of the oil pipeline that Alberta, Canada-based Enbridge, Inc. built on Kardos' property and that of other central Michigan residents. It replaced Enbridge's aging Line 6b, which ruptured in 2010 and spilled more than a million gallons of heavy crude oil into Michigan's Kalamazoo River.

U.S. OKs Export of Processed Condensate, Not Oil. Why the Distinction Matters

Decision by the Commerce Department to allow two companies to export an ultra-light hydrocarbon confims existing policy. Or does it?

Jun 26, 2014

Forget that headline you saw yesterday, and the frenzy that followed it, about how U.S. companies are about to export domestic crude oil for the first time since the 1970s. That's not happening—at least not yet.

"It was a total exaggeration," said Fadel Gheit, senior oil analyst at Oppenheimer and Co. "People jumped to the conclusion that this is going to be the first step in the long-awaited lifting of the [oil] export ban."

Frac Sand Boom: South Dakota Is Latest State to Try to Cash In

A fledgling frac sand company plans to build the state's first silica mine under a sprawling 960-acre site in the state's largest forest, Black Hills.

Jun 26, 2014

Oil and gas drillers are salivating over silica sand, a key ingredient in fracking operations, and their increasing demand for the stuff has the nation's industrial sand operators seeing green.

Now, a new player—and an unlikely one—is on the horizon: South Dakota is poised to cash in on the frac sand boom.

South Dakota Proppants, LLC, a fledgling frac sand company, plans to build the state's first silica mine under a sprawling 960-acre site in the state's largest forest, Black Hills.

Silica sand is incredibly strong and round, the best material to blast down drilling wells to open bedrock and release oil and gas. One well can use up to 10,000 tons of frac sand during its lifespan.

The demand for U.S. silica is at an all-time high, and there's no end in sight. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the sand and gravel industry was worth $2.6 billion in 2013, up from about $830 million in 2009—and frac sand drove that growth. Meanwhile, the price of a ton of sand has dramatically increased, from approximately $35 to $50. The USGS data are voluntarily submitted by companies and may underestimate the industry's magnitude.

The proposed mega-facility, a mine, processing and transport hub rolled into one, is strategically located within 300 miles of three major oil- and gas-rich shale rock formations: North Dakota’s Bakken, Colorado's Niobrara and Wyoming's Powder River Basin. If built, the facility will make South Dakota the latest state with marginal oil and gas reserves to profit from the nation's hydraulic fracturing drilling boom.

Calif. Earmarks a Quarter of Its Cap-and-Trade Riches for Environmental Justice

This year, $230 million from the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund will go to programs for low-income and minority people.

Jun 25, 2014

One-quarter of the $872 million generated by California's 18-month-old cap-and-trade scheme will go to housing and public transit programs for poor and minority communities this year, according to the recently approved state budget. The decision caps a long fight by environmental justice advocates over how much of the state's carbon proceeds should be distributed to disadvantaged people, who are more likely to live near power plants and suffer disproportionately from toxic air pollution.

"These greenhouse gas emissions are being generated in the communities that have the highest pollution," said Mari Rose Taruc, state organizing director of the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, a nonprofit in Oakland that advocates for environmental justice. "We've been working on these climate investments for low-income communities of color for over five years."

By 2020, the program could funnel some $8 billion a year into the state's Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, and California lawmakers have been battling for years over how that money should be spent. Should it be used only to promote renewable energy and other low-carbon programs? Or should the state use some of the money for other purposes?

Bipartisan Leaders Make Economic Case for Fighting Climate Change

'Our findings show that if we continue on our current path many regions of the U.S. face the prospect of serious economic effects from climate change.'

Jun 24, 2014

Businesses and governments around the country should begin now to prepare for a future in which precious timber is lost to ground fire, factory equipment is inundated or swept away by storms and flood, and it's impossible to work outside on many days because of the heat.

All of these ill effects of climate change will do serious harm to the national economy, said a new report, Risky Business, issued on Tuesday. As a result, companies and governments should start investing now in measures to both stave off the worst effects of climate and to adapt to them—or risk paying an astronomical price tag later.

The report characterized itself as "a climate risk assessment for the United States."

It was produced by a bipartisan group of business and government leaders led by Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York, Henry Paulson, the former U.S secretary of the treasury, and Thomas Steyer, a political financier and climate activist who is the retired founder of the Farallon capital management group.

Q&A: Top Pipeline Safety Advocate on His 15-Year 'Bambi vs. Godzilla' Fight

'We’re really the only national group that focuses on pipeline safety. So how does Bambi stay alive in that environment?'

Jun 24, 2014
Carl Weimer speaking at the Pipeline Safety Trust's 2012 annual conference.

Fifteen years ago this month, gasoline from a burst pipeline spilled into a Bellingham, Wash. creek and exploded, killing three boys: ten-year-olds Stephen Tsiorvas and Wade King, and 18-year-old Liam Wood. The tragedy opened the nation's eyes to dangers lurking in the labyrinth of pipelines underground and spurred Bellingham residents to launch SAFE Bellingham, a group that would later morph into America's first pipeline safety watchdog.

Front and center in the leadership of SAFE Bellingham was Carl Weimer. By 2003, when the Justice Department reached a settlement with Olympic Pipeline, Weimer had become so informed and passionate about pipeline safety that he was picked to lead the Pipeline Safety Trust, a nationally focused organization established with a $4 million endowment from the settlement.

At the time, the Trust's role in challenging the powerful oil and gas industry was described as "Bambi taking on Godzilla."

More than a decade later, the tiny Bellingham-based group still faces an uphill fight. But its influence is outsized and unmatched—especially as pipeline concerns move into the mainstream, partly due to the raging debate over the Keystone XL pipeline. Weimer is now the go-to person to represent the public during Congressional hearings, industry conferences and meetings with the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).

In an extensive interview, Weimer spoke with InsideClimate News about the 15-year anniversary of the Bellingham tragedy and his group's challenges and successes. The conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

First Nations Being Courted to Back Tar Sands Refinery Projects on Their Land

Companies behind refining proposals are trying hard to avoid the mistakes Enbridge made on Northern Gateway pipeline—but an uphill fight awaits.

Jun 23, 2014

Despite last week's approval from the Canadian government, uncertainty still dogs Enbridge Inc.'s Northern Gateway oil sands pipeline largely because of a vow from key aboriginal communities to block it.

Others in the oil industry are trying hard to avoid the mistakes Enbridge made when it comes to approaching Canada's powerful First Nations about projects that could contaminate their lands and waterways.

Pacific Future Energy Corp.'s recent refinery proposal is the latest example.

Earlier this month, the company unveiled plans for a $10 billion refinery in British Columbia that would convert Alberta's tar sands bitumen into gasoline, diesel and jet fuel for export to Asia and other markets. Pacific Future Energy pledged to form a "full partnership" with affected First Nations, provide permanent jobs and build the "greenest refinery in the world."