Fuelfix | 15 June 2015

Court Rules Against Environmentalists in Endorsing Feds’ Handling of Arctic Spill Response Plans

A federal court on 11 June affirmed the Obama administration’s oversight of Shell’s plans for cleaning up an oil spill should one occur during its work in the Arctic Ocean, delivering a blow to environmentalists who argued the government’s scrutiny was superficial.

In a 2–1 ruling, a panel of the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals held that Interior Department regulators were right to subject Shell’s oil spill plans to a streamlined analysis, without conducting a broad environmental assessment of the blueprint and consulting with other agencies about how proposed spill cleanup techniques might affect endangered species.

A federal district court previously ruled for the agency and Shell, which intervened in the case; the court’s decision upheld it.

At issue were the oil spill response plans Shell submitted for proposed exploratory oil drilling in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, which the Interior Department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement approved in March 2012.

San Jose Mercury News | 10 June 2015

Offshore Oil Drilling Banned Along New Stretch of California Coast

In the largest expansion of national marine sanctuaries in California in 23 years, the Obama administration on 9 June more than doubled the size of two Northern California marine sanctuaries, extending them by 50 miles up the rugged Sonoma and Mendocino coasts.

Under the dramatic move by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration(NOAA), the boundaries of the Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank national marine sanctuaries expand from Bodega Bay to Point Arena, permanently banning offshore oil drilling along that stretch of coast.

“These waters represent an extraordinary marine ecosystem, one of the richest on our planet,” said Maria Brown, NOAA’s superintendent of the Farallones sanctuary, headquartered in San Francisco.

The Hill | 4 June 2015

EPA Says Hydraulic Fracturing Causes No Harm to Drinking Water

Hydraulic fracturing has not caused any major harms to drinking water supplies, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) concluded on 4 June.

In what the EPA is calling the most comprehensive examination of existing data and science on the impact on drinking water from the controversial oil and natural gas drilling technique, it largely debunked concerns about extensive contamination of well water or other sources.

And while the draft report released on 4 June is largely a win for industry, which has said for years that hydraulic fracturing is completely safe, the EPA recognized some “potential vulnerabilities in the water lifecycle that could impact drinking water.” “EPA’s draft assessment will give state regulators, tribes, and local communities and industry around the country a critical resource to identify how best to protect public health and their drinking water resources,” Thomas A. Burke, an EPA science advisor and top official in its research office, said in a statement.

“It is the most complete compilation of scientific data to date, including over 950 sources of information, published papers, numerous technical reports, information from stakeholders, and peer-reviewed EPA scientific reports,” he said.

E&E News | 2 June 2015

In Big EPA Win, Court Denies Challenges to Ozone Designations

A federal appeals court on 2 June rejected a series of challenges from states, environmental groups, and energy companies to the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) determinations of which parts of the country meet its standard for ozone, a main component of smog.

In May 2012, EPA finalized its attainment and nonattainment designations for its 2008 ozone air standard of 75 parts per billion. If the agency finds a county or area does not meet the standard, that area must undertake significant and often expensive steps to reduce ozone emissions.

Mississippi, Texas, Indiana, Delaware, and Connecticut all challenged EPA’s nonattainment findings for some of their counties. Environmental groups argued that 15 other counties that were found in attainment shouldn’t have been. And, in another claim, the groups argued that Utah’s Uinta Basin—home to oil and gas development and some of the country’s worst ozone pollution—should not have been dubbed “unclassifiable.”

In a nearly 90-page opinion, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected all of those claims, handing EPA a significant victory.

“Because EPA complied with the Constitution, reasonably interpreted the [Clean Air Act’s] critical terms and wholly satisfied—indeed, in most instances, surpassed—its obligation to engage in reasoned decision-making, we deny the consolidated petitions for review in their entirety,” the court wrote.

Eco Magazine | 3 June 2015

Environmental Groups File Lawsuit Challenging Shell’s Arctic Drilling Plan

An alliance of a dozen environmental and Alaska-based community groups are challenging the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s approval of Shell’s oil exploration plan for drilling this summer in the Chukchi Sea.

Earthjustice filed a lawsuit on 2 June 2015 in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of the alliance to challenge approval of Shell’s exploration plan. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management greenlighted Shell’s plan in May, paving the way for the oil giant to drill in the Arctic Ocean’s Chukchi Sea starting as soon as July.

The Wall Street Journal | 28 May 2015

Interior Department Releases Plans To Conserve Greater Sage Grouse Habitat

The Obama administration on 28 May released plans to conserve the habitat of the greater sage grouse in several western states that include limits on oil and natural-gas drilling.

The conservation plans are related to an Interior Department effort to decide by October whether to list the chickenlike bird as an endangered species, a move that could have a broad impact on the west’s economy, including energy development. The department is announcing individual plans for each state with habitat, though they will have similarities.

The initiative by the government to preserve sage grouse habitat, which covers an area of 165 million acres, about the size of Texas, has been met with concern by the mining, ranching, and oil and natural-gas industry, which have large footprints in several of the 11 affected states. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced the effort in Wyoming, the state with the largest affected area.

Environmental groups are urging the administration to list the bird as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, a 1973 law that can lead to land-use and other restrictions. Jewell has said in meetings with groups in the rural west that she wants to work with them to avoid such a listing. The conservation plans being announced could be sufficient to avoid it, according to the department.

Threats to the bird’s habitat include wildfires, invasive species and disturbances to habitat caused by oil and gas drilling, the Interior Department said. Putting the sage grouse on the federal government’s endangered species list could significantly impact oil and gas development, along with other economic development.

Platts | 26 May 2015

BOEM Director Defends Shell Arctic Drilling Decision

Faced with intense opposition from environmentalists, the director of the US Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) defended the administration’s conditional approval of Shell’s plans to drill in the Arctic this summer, a decision she indicated was based on both federal statute and, partly, national security.

“There are certain regulatory requirements and [Shell] had met all of those requirements,” BOEM Director Abigail Ross Hopper said in an interview. “We don’t have the ability to push things back. We can either approve or deny or approve with conditions. [Shell] met all the regulatory requirements … there’s not a basis upon which to reject it.”

The majority of environmental groups are pushing for an effective ban on US Arctic drilling, a path some felt President Barack Obama may have been moving toward when in late January he designated 9.8 million acres in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas offshore Alaska as off-limits to future oil and gas leasing.

But Hopper, who was named BOEM’s director in December, said the administration is committed to oil and gas development in the Arctic as part of both diversifying the nation’s energy supply and growing US oil and gas resources for national security reasons.

The Hill | 20 May 2015

Petroleum Company To Pay USD 2.9 Million Fine

Marathon Petroleum has agreed to pay a USD 2.9 million fine and invest in new pollution control systems at its distribution facilities to settle a dispute with the federal government over emissions violations, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced on 19 May.

The EPA and the Department of Justice had accused Ohio-based Marathon of failing to comply with Clean Air Act fuel emissions standards, violations the EPA said “may have resulted in excess emissions of air pollutants from motor vehicles, which can pose threats to public health and the environment.”

The violations included producing more than 400 million gallons of fuel that didn’t comply with Clean Air Act standards on volatile organic compounds or sulfur and ethanol levels, EPA and the Justice Department said in a statement.

BakerHostetler via Mondaq | 20 May 2015

SMU Study Examines Uptick In Texas Earthquakes

In an article published in April in the journal Nature Communications, researchers at Southern Methodist University pointed to oil and gas activities as the probable cause of an increase in earthquakes near Azle, Texas, based on a study they had conducted in the area. The researchers’ conclusion conflicts with the stance of the US Geological Survey that the cause of the earthquakes is inconclusive.

In the study, the SMU researchers analyzed data from the US Geological Survey’s National Earthquake Information Center, which reported that from early November 2013 through January 2014, there were 27 earthquakes near the cities of Azle and Reno, Texas. Since 2008, the northern region of Texas has experienced four swarms of earthquakes, with 130 total quakes. Most of the earthquakes have been relatively small, but citizens have expressed concern about the uptick, particularly since the US Geological Survey reports that the area had only one recorded earthquake in the 58 years before 2008. In the article summarizing the findings of their study, the SMU researchers stated that “while some uncertainties remain, it is unlikely that natural increases to tectonic stresses led to these events.”

Read the study here.

E&E News | 19 May 2015

Obama Administration Proposes Major Changes in Listing Process for Endangered Species

The agencies responsible for protecting imperiled species proposed changes to the way in which outside groups ask the federal government to review the status of plants and animals under the Endangered Species Act.

One proposed change would give states a bigger role in the petition process and increase coordination with federal wildlife officials, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). Petitioners, which are most often environmental groups or animal welfare advocates, would have to solicit information from relevant state wildlife agencies before asking the services to review the status of a given species.

The proposal was quickly panned by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), one of the most frequent petitioners of FWS and NMFS, as an unnecessary step and a burden on concerned citizen groups.

But the changes—along with a raft of planned regulatory updates to the four-decade-old law that were also previewed today—are likely to be welcomed by Republicans who have introduced legislation that they say would make the law more transparent and efficient.

“These actions will make an effective and robust law even more successful and will also reinforce the importance of states, landowners, and sound science in that effort,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, who oversees FWS, said in a statement.

Larry Voyles, the president of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, added in the statement that “we appreciate the service’s due recognition of, and requirement to, incorporate the data and information of state fish and wildlife agencies for the formulation of listing petitions.”

But Noah Greenwald, CBD’s endangered species director, said in an interview that “these proposed regulations will make it harder for wildlife on the brink of extinction to get the protection they need.”

The Hill | 19 May 2015

Oil Lobby Launches Ads Against EPA Ozone Rule

The oil industry launched a multimedia advertising campaign in opposition to the Obama administration’s attempt to restrict allowable concentrations of ozone pollution.

The campaign from the American Petroleum Institute (API) reinforces the industry’s belief that the current ozone standards, set in 2008, are sufficient to protect public health.

The ads will appear in print, radio, TV, and the Web, the API said.The battle over ozone is a high-stakes fight for oil and other industries that produce or use fossil fuels. Ozone, the main component of smog, is a byproduct of pollutants from fossil fuels, and the industry fears states would curb fossil fuel use in order to comply.

“Even as we drive more, use more energy, and grow our economy, air pollution is dropping. Ozone levels are down 18%,” a voiceover in the TV ad says. “But bureaucrats want to change the current rules safeguarding public health.”

The ad cites a controversial industry conclusion that the Environmental Protection Agency’s ozone proposal would be the most expensive regulation ever and calls it unnecessary.

“Don’t mess with success,” the oil group’s ad says. “Keep the current strict ozone standards.”

The EPA proposed in November to reduce the allowable ozone level to between 65 and 70 parts per billion, down from the current 75 parts per billion.