The Associated Press | 1 July 2015

New York Formalizes Ban on Hydraulic Fracturing, Ending 7-Year Review

New York formalized its ban on high-volume hydraulic fracturing for natural gas on 29 June, concluding a 7-year environmental and health review that drew a record number of public comments.

“After years of exhaustive research and examination of the science and facts, prohibiting high-volume hydraulic fracturing is the only reasonable alternative,” Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Joe Martens said in announcing the decision. “High-volume hydraulic fracturing poses significant adverse impacts to land, air, water, natural resources, and potential significant public health impacts that cannot be adequately mitigated.”

In its decision, the DEC noted that more than 260,000 public comments were submitted on its environmental impact study and proposed regulations, an unprecedented number. The agency said most of the comments urged it to severely restrict or prohibit the practice.

New York is the only state with significant natural gas resources to ban hydraulic fracturing, which has allowed other states to tap huge volumes of gas trapped in shale formations deep underground. The technology has produced new jobs, created economic growth, and reduced energy prices but has triggered concern that it could pollute air and water, cause earthquakes, and pose long-term health effects that aren’t yet known.

While environmental groups praised the ban, drilling proponents have said the decision was based on politics rather than on science.

“Hydraulic fracturing is a proven, 60-plus-year-old process that has been done safely in over 1 million American wells,” said Karen Moreau, executive director of the New York branch of the American Petroleum Institute. “Surging production of natural gas is a major reason US carbon emissions are near 20-year lows.”

The Hill | 1 July 2015

Keystone Developer Says New Regulations Justify the Project

Recent Canadian action on climate change helps justify the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, a TransCanada executive said in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry.

The Alberta government’s increase of the province’s carbon tax, as well as Canada’s commitment to international climate change agreements, means the Keystone project has to meet high environmental standards in both Canada and the United States, Kristine Delkus, TransCanada’s executive vice president and general counsel, wrote in the letter.

The US government has been reviewing TransCanada’s application to build the Keystone pipeline for 7 years. President Obama has said the project should only go forward if it doesn’t add to the problem of carbon pollution, something Delkus said will be proven by the new regulatory actions in Canada.

“There have been a number of recent and highly significant governmental policy developments related to carbon emissions and climate change concerns,” she wrote. “Each of these are directly relevant to the president’s statement that the proposed project will not be determined to be in the national interest absent a finding that it would not ‘significantly exacerbate’ climate change.”

World Resources Institute | 25 June 2015

Column: States Can Take the Lead in Reducing Methane Emissions From Natural Gas

Natural gas can offer climate and public health benefits, but its production too often leaks methane, a heat trapping gas that is at least 34 times as potent as carbon dioxide. Estimates show that natural gas production sites leak from 1% to 10% or more of their methane. Consider the fact that the U.S. has more than 925,000 natural-gas-producing wells, and that is a lot of methane being released into the atmosphere.

While the federal government is taking steps to reduce these emissions, soon-to-be-proposed rules from the Environmental Protection Agency don’t go far enough. They will cover only new and modified natural gas infrastructure, leaving old, leaky equipment free to emit unchecked amounts of methane.

That is where states can play a role. A new paper from the World Resources Institute (WRI) outlines the many opportunities that states have to lead in reducing the country’s methane emissions. In fact, it’s in their best interest to do so.

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.