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August 03 2011

18:39

Federal Government Asks Judge To Dismiss New York State Fracking Lawsuit

The U.S. government is asking a federal judge in New York to dismiss a lawsuit brought by the state of New York against the government that was seeking to demand a complete review of the environmental damage caused by hydraulic fracturing (fracking). The federal government claims that New York state does not have the grounds to file a suit as they have “no evidence” of injury and they do not have the authority to sue the federal government.

Sandra Levy, an Assistant U.S. Attorney, wrote to District Judge Nicholas Garaufis, telling him that the suit was barred because the federal government has “sovereign immunity,” and therefore, federal agencies cannot be sued by states.


From a previous DeSmogBlog post detailing the specifics of the lawsuit:

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman of New York has filed a lawsuit against the federal government for failing to properly study the effects of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) before granting permits to gas drillers. The lawsuit seeks to stop fracking in the Delaware River Basin until a comprehensive analysis of the dangers is performed by the government.

Schneiderman warned Washington last month that he would file suit if the government didn’t take immediate action to study the effects of fracking. Schneiderman says that federal officials have failed to assess the fracking process properly, and that the environmental protections for the Delaware River Basin have not been evaluated by government officials to determine if they are adequate to address the fracking boom. Independent studies have shown that fracking fluids contain numerous toxic chemicals, and that the potential to contaminate water supplies is enormous.

Currently, standards for the Delaware River Basin would allow as many as 18,000 new gas wells in the coming years, and the majority of these will employ the controversial fracking method. These rules allow companies to create new gas wells without having to adhere to any environmental standards that other industries follow in the area.


In his original complaint, Schneiderman pointed out that hundreds of clean water violations have been reported as a result of the more than 2,000 gas wells that have been drilled in Pennsylvania, and that the state of New York has spent a staggering $1.5 billion to help protect their own water supply from fracking pollution.

The federal government’s request is a horrible blow to American citizens and to the environment, and will set a dangerous precedent for any fracking lawsuits that arise in the future.

July 12 2011

23:02

BP Urges Government To Halt Gulf Oil Disaster Relief Payments For Future Losses

Oil giant BP is urging the federal government to stop making payments to Gulf Coast residents affected by last year’s Gulf of Mexico oil geyser. BP claims that the improving economic conditions among areas hit the hardest by the oil provide enough evidence to show that they no longer need to be compensated for future losses from the environmental disaster.

To date, roughly $4.5 billion worth of claims have been paid out of the $20 billion fund established by the government and funded by BP to pay victims of the oil catastrophe. Claims continue to be filed with the government seeking compensation for their losses.

BP is not attempting to halt payments to current claimants with recognizable losses – only those who are claiming that their future income will be impacted. The company released a letter to the government and to the press claiming the following:

BP remains committed to paying all legitimate claims under OPA. Based on the current state of the Gulf economy, however, a reevaluation of the future factor is required. Multiple lines of evidence demonstrate that, to the extent that portions of the Gulf economy were impacted by the spill, recovery had occurred by the end of 2010, and that positive economic performance continues into 2011, with 2011 economic metrics exceeding pre-spill performance. That the Gulf economy is strong, and that there is no basis to assume that claimants, with very limited exceptions, will incur a future loss related to the oil spill, is evidenced by the following facts, among others:

During the first quarter of 2011, hotels in coastal areas of the Gulf states performed well above first quarter (pre-spill) 2010 levels.

Tourist businesses in the Gulf region reported strong, and in some cases, record, springs, Memorial Day weekends, and Fourth of July holidays.

According to the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, tourist dollars spent in the city in 2010 were at a record high and exceeded 2009 by more than $1.1 billion dollars.

To determine if BP’s claims of economic recovery are true, all you have to do is look to the past. The Exxon Valdez oil spill occurred more than 20 years ago, yet oil still coats areas of Alaska today. And the difference between the two oil leaks is that with Exxon, we knew exactly how much oil was spilled into Prince William Sound. In that case, it was roughly 11 million gallons of oil.

However, there is no precise measurement of how much oil poured into the Gulf of Mexico, but the best estimates say that it was as much as 184 million gallons of oil. It is highly unlikely that all of this oil disappeared or washed up on beaches. When this oil eventually turns up, claims will continue to be filed by those affected.

But it isn’t just the economy that BP is saying has recovered; they also make the claim that the fishing industry is back to pre-spill health:

All federal fishing grounds are open.

Upon the reopening of fishing grounds in the summer and fall of 2010, landings of shrimp and menhaden were very strong.

Landings of shrimp and menhaden have remained strong in 2011

As a Gulf Coast resident, I've seen modest crowds return to the beaches, and witnessed local businesses enjoying more tourist traffic over the last few weekends. It is summer beach season, after all, but those claims by BP are accurate, for the time being.  This does not mean that residents and local businesses are completely out of the woods.  Many will no doubt continue to incur future losses as a result of the BP offshore oil disaster.

But more importantly, for BP to claim that the seafood industry has not only rebounded, but that the seafood is safe to consume, is disengenous. Even more troublesome is the fact that this claim has been echoed by the federal government as well.

Reports show that commercial fishing and the recreational fishing industry are still suffering in the wake of the oil gusher. Additionally, studies on the safety of Gulf seafood have been dangerously inadequate. Most of the federal studies conducted have only tested for remnants of burnt oil and have not monitored other chemicals found in oil that pose a threat to human health. This is why, just a few days ago, universities across the South were given millions of dollars in federal grants to study the long term effects of the oil spill on marine life and on the safety of the seafood.

Until the long term studies are concluded, it is impossible for anyone to make a finite claim that seafood from the Gulf is safe.  Given the well-documented trail of misinformation and confusion created by both BP and the government in the wake of the Gulf oil disaster, there is no reason to believe they're telling the honest truth now.  We must let science settle the safety of Gulf seafood, and only time will reveal the lasting impacts from this horrible oil disaster on Gulf residents and our economies. 

To suggest that everything is completely back to normal is a dangerous and unfounded position. BP can - and certainly will - say what it wants to limit its financial obligations to clean up this disaster and make residents whole again.  But the federal government - especially under the leadership of President Obama, who campaigned on the importance of relying on science instead of rhetoric - has no right to follow BP's lead in confusing the public.

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June 24 2011

11:45

Transocean Report Blames BP For Gulf Oil Disaster

Offshore oil drilling giant Transocean released the results of an internal investigation this week on the causes of last year’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion. The investigation concluded that well owner BP was to blame for the explosion and the resulting 3-month oil geyser in the Gulf of Mexico.

Transocean claims that BP’s actions led to the blowout, as they were in charge of most of the decision-making on the Deepwater Horizon rig. Transocean says that BP’s poor decisions caused a succession of problems ranging from the well design itself to the construction process of the Macondo rig. Transocean officials also fault BP for causing a breakdown in communication during construction, which they claim led to many of the failures aboard the oil rig. Here are a few highlights from their report:

BP did not properly communicate to the drill crew the lack of testing on the cement or the uncertainty surrounding critical tests and procedures used to confirm the integrity of the barriers intended to inhibit the flow of hydrocarbons from the well. A hydrocarbon is a compound consisting of hydrogen and carbon that is found in oil and gas.

BP adopted a technically complex nitrogen foam cement program for sealing the well. The resulting cementing job was of minimal quantity, left little margin for error, and was not tested adequately before or after the cementing operation. Further, the integrity of the cement may have been compromised by contamination, instability, and an inadequate number of devices used to center the casing in the wellbore.

Cement contractor Halliburton and BP did not adequately test the cement slurry used to seal the well.

BP also failed to assess the risk of the temporary abandonment procedure used at Macondo. At the time of the explosion, BP was making sure the well was sealed so it could temporarily abandon the site and perhaps come back at some point in the future to produce oil from the exploratory well. Transocean said BP generated at least five different temporary abandonment plans for the Macondo well between April 12, 2010, and April 20, 2010. After this series of last-minute alterations, BP proceeded with a temporary abandonment plan that created risk and did not have the required government approval.

Transocean’s report also claims that their blowout preventer (BOP) was fully operational and played no part in the explosion and oil leak. Transocean was the owner of the blowout preventer, a device that had the potential to prevent the massive oil leak into the Gulf of Mexico. Their claim that the BOP was working properly goes against the findings of previous reports.

As we’ve reported in the past, numerous failures led to last year’s disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, including a lack of regular inspections and a cozy relationship between rig owners and federal regulators.

Transocean is facing numerous lawsuits for their role in the Deepwater Horizon explosion, and their report is likely an attempt to shift the blame onto BP and Halliburton. The likelihood of their internal investigation playing a significant role in litigation remains small, as the government’s report has clearly stated that all parties share in the responsibility for the catastrophe.

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June 21 2011

18:10

Heritage Foundation Wastes No Time Spinning Court Ruling On Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against plaintiffs yesterday in a lawsuit (American Electric Power Co. v. Connecticut) brought by six states against several utility companies and the government-owned Tennessee Valley Authority. The states (California, Connecticut, Iowa, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont) were attempting to force the utility companies to cut their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions on the grounds that the emissions were a “public nuisance.” The Court unanimously declared that the judiciary should stay out of the matter because the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) already has the authority to regulate emissions under the Clean Air Act.

President Obama previously stated that he stood with the utility companies in this suit, as well as in a similar suit being decided in a lower court. The utility companies in the suit included Duke Energy, American Electric Power, Southern Co, Excel Energy, and the aforementioned Tennessee Valley Authority.

The conservative think tank Heritage Foundation wasted no time yesterday in claiming that the Court’s ruling was a major blow to environmentalists, and managed to take a cheap shot at some of the liberal members of the court:

In a coherent and entirely rational argument that one does not always see from a liberal justice like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the opinion pointed out the fallacy of what the plaintiffs were trying to do – convince the federal courts to step into the role of environmental regulators and take the first stab at making complex scientific decisions. [emphasis added]

Heritage writer Hans von Spakovsky also pointed out that Justices Alito and Thomas disagreed with the Court’s previous ruling in Massachusetts v. EPA, where the Court ruled that the EPA has the authority to regulate GHG emissions:

Justice Alito wrote a very short concurrence, joined by Justice Thomas, that consisted of just one paragraph. Alito joined in the judgment of the court, but did so “on the assumption (which I make for the sake of argument because no party contends otherwise) that the interpretation of the Clean Air Act adopted by the majority in Massachusetts v. EPA is correct.” In other words, Alito and Thomas were questioning what many have previously disputed – the erroneous conclusion of the Court that carbon dioxide is even a “pollutant” that is covered under the Clean Air Act.

The Heritage Foundation has a long history of denying climate change and attempting to downplay the effects. Earlier this year, the group wrote about how environmental activists were attempting to use the courts to pursue their agenda:

The recent spate of global warming lawsuits is an attempt to circumvent the political process and implement public policy by judicial fiat. Unable to advance their policies through Congress, global warming activists have turned to the judiciary to implement their agenda. Although this legislation-through-litigation violates the Constitution’s separation of powers principles, some federal judges are receptive to such lawsuits.

There is also a certain element of greed driving climate change litigation. The plaintiffs’ bar earned literally billions of dollars in attorneys’ fees in the court fight against tobacco companies, and the latest generation of plaintiffs’ attorneys sees the current battle over climate change as an opportunity for another legal fee bonanza—one that could easily eclipse the windfall from tobacco lawsuits. The personal injury bar is interested only in deep-pocket American energy and utility companies, even though any of the many producers of “greenhouse gasses” like carbon dioxide could be a target.

Last year, Ben Lieberman, the Senior Policy Analyst for Energy and Environment at The Heritage Foundation, wrote an op-ed claiming: “What I conclude from a policy standpoint is that global warming is clearly not a crisis and should not be addressed as one…None of the scary stuff about global warming is true, and what is true about global warming, what the science actually tells us about man’s role in changing the climate, is far from terrifying.

It should come as no surprise that some of the biggest financiers of the Heritage Foundation include oil giants Exxon Mobil and Chevron Texaco. In addition, Greenpeace has pointed out that the organization received more than $2 million from Koch foundations from 1997 – 2009. Greenpeace and DeSmogBlog have also noted that Heritage has been involved in a strategic cover up of climate science and that the group has been leading the misinformation campaign on climate change for years.

The Court’s ruling might seem like a setback, but there is clearly a silver lining. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who wrote the opinion in the ruling, said that the plaintiffs were simply making their case in the wrong forum.

Furthermore, this ruling reaffirms the Court’s previous ruling that EPA has the authority to regulate this air pollution under the Clean Air Act. While some politicians are working to repeal the EPA’s authority, the U.S. Supreme Court just gave the agency a much-needed boost.

June 01 2011

18:10

New York Attorney General Sues Over Lack Of Fracking Studies

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman of New York has filed a lawsuit against the federal government for failing to properly study the effects of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) before granting permits to gas drillers. The lawsuit seeks to stop fracking in the Delaware River Basin until a comprehensive analysis of the dangers is performed by the government.

Schneiderman warned Washington last month that he would file suit if the government didn’t take immediate action to study the effects of fracking. Schneiderman says that federal officials have failed to assess the fracking process properly, and that the environmental protections for the Delaware River Basin have not been evaluated by government officials to determine if they are adequate to address the fracking boom. Independent studies have shown that fracking fluids contain numerous toxic chemicals, and that the potential to contaminate water supplies is enormous.

Currently, standards for the Delaware River Basin would allow as many as 18,000 new gas wells in the coming years, and the majority of these will employ the controversial fracking method. These rules allow companies to create new gas wells without having to adhere to any environmental standards that other industries follow in the area.
<!--break-->
Chesapeake Energy
holds most of these leases, and has claimed that their fracking fluid is 99% sand and water, with “chemical additives” that are virtually harmless because they are also found in “everyday consumer products and cleaners.”

In April of this year, a fracking well operated by Chesapeake Energy in Pennsylvania blew, leaking contaminated water into nearby aquifers.

DeSmogBlog has put together a comprehensive report detailing the dangers of fracking, which includes exclusive interviews, analysis, and data.

December 23 2010

00:02

November 29 2010

23:56

June 30 2010

21:25

A Governor Seals Oil-Spill Records

Elected officials in Louisiana and members of the public seeking details on how Gov. Bobby Jindal and his administration fared in their own response to the disaster are out of luck: late last week, the governor vetoed an amendment to a state bill that would have made public all records from his office related to the oil spill.
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