Energy & Natural Resources

In its June 30, 2015 opinion, Landra v. New Dominion, LLC, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held that a personal injury tort action alleging that fracking-related activity caused an earthquake that then caused the plaintiff’s injuries can proceed in an Oklahoma district court. The Oklahoma Supreme Court made no factual or legal findings with respect to the merits of the claims of causation, it simply held that the district court has jurisdiction to hear the suit based on the allegations made.

The Landra plaintiff is a resident of Prague, Oklahoma, and her lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages for injuries allegedly proximately caused by the defendants wastewater disposal practices. The plaintiff claims that in November 2011 she was watching television in her living room when a 5.0 magnitude earthquake struck causing rock facing on the two-story fireplace and chimney to fall onto her causing injury to her knees and legs. She claims personal injury damages in excess of $75,000. Continue Reading Fracking-Related Personal Injury Tort Claim Allowed to Proceed in Oklahoma Court

The EPA released a draft of its study, U.S. EPA Assessment of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas on Drinking Water Resources (External Review Draft), EPA, Washington, DC, EPA/600/R-15/047, 2015, assessing the impact of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) on drinking water in early June (the draft Assessment). According to the EPA’s press release, the study finds that “hydraulic fracturing activities have not led to widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water resources,” but “identifies important vulnerabilities.”  Continue Reading Draft EPA Study Finds Fracking Has Not Led to Widespread Drinking Water Contamination

Texas now outlaws local municipalities from passing bans on hydraulic fracturing.  The bill proposing the law sailed through the Texas Legislature by large majorities and was signed by Governor Gregg Abbott on Monday, May 18, 2015.   The law prohibits cities and towns from imposing local ordinances preventing “fracking” activities.

The bill, known as House Bill 40 (HB40), passed the Texas Senate earlier this month by a 24 – 7 vote, after previously passing the Texas House of Representative by wide margin.  The new law stems from a fracking ban passed by the north Texas town of Denton last November.  Denton’s November 2014 ballot proposal to ban oil and gas fracking was supported by 59% of Denton voters.  Continue Reading Texas Bans Fracking Bans

The United States Department of the Interior (DOI) Bureau of Land Management issued a long-awaited final rule for hydraulic fracturing on federal lands. The rule was announced on Friday, March 20, 2015. According to the DOI’s press release these commonsense standards will improve safety and help protect groundwater by updating requirements for well-bore integrity, wastewater disposal and public disclosure of chemicals.” The new rule applies to hydraulic fracturing on federal and Indian tribal lands across the United States. Approximately 100,000 wells will be affected by the rule which is set to be published in the Federal Register on March 26, 2015 (can be found here) and will become effective 90 days after its publication (June 18, 2015).

The new rule is the result of a multi-year process that included multiple draft rules, stakeholder meetings and regional public forums, as well as more than 1.5 million public comments. The rule met with immediate criticism upon release from both environmental groups (claiming the rule does not go far enough) and industry groups (claiming the rule goes too far). Continue Reading Federal Fracking Rule Announced

A recently published study finds that hydraulic fracturing (fracking) activity triggered numerous earthquakes in Ohio in March 2014.  According to the study, published online this month by The Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America (BSSA), the fracking activities did not create a new fault, but rather activated a fault that was previously unknown.  The study, “Earthquakes Induced by Hydraulic Fracturing in Poland Township, Ohio” was authored by Robert J. Skoumal, Michael R. Brudzinski, and Brian S. Currie affiliated with Miami University of Ohio.  Continue Reading Study Suggests Fracking Activity Induced Earthquakes

New York State’s Department of Health (DOH) Acting Commissioner, Dr. Howard Zucker, has recommended that hydraulic fracturing be banned.  According to a press release issued today, the DOH has determined that significant questions and risks to public health from fracking are unanswered making it “reckless” to allow fracking in New York State.

According to Dr. Zucker, “it would be reckless to proceed in New York until more authoritative research is done.”  One motivating factor in Zucker’s decision was that he would not let his family live in a community with fracking so he could not recommend that anyone else’s family live in such a community either. Continue Reading New York to Ban Fracking

North Dakota’s Industrial Commission (Commission) has issued an order tightening the conditioning and transportation standards for oil produced in the Bakken Petroleum System (Bakken, Three Forks, and Spanish Pool). Non-compliance with the new standards carry a penalty of up to $12,500 per day of violation.  The order is set to take effect April 1, 2015.

Pursuant to Order No. 25417, operators will be required to separate light hydrocarbons from all Bakken crude to be transported, and are prohibited from blending light hydrocarbons back into oil supplies prior to shipment.  The order also requires operators to condition Bakken Crude to a vapor pressure of 13.7 pounds per square inch (psi) which is less than national standard of 14.7 psi. Continue Reading North Dakota Issues New Standards for Bakken Oil

Researchers have developed a small organic molecule that assembles into a porous structure and absorbs hydrocarbons and their derivatives, many of which are potent greenhouse gases.  The material is lightweight, as well as thermally and hydrolytically stable.  For anyone involved in the emission and capture of greenhouse gases, recent developments in nanotechnology, or just simply interested in the climate change issue, this new research represents a potentially groundbreaking development in the battle to combat greenhouse gases.

A University of Houston-led team conducted the research and published it last month in Nature Communications.   Titled Thermally robust and porous noncovalent organic framework with high affinity for fluorocarbons and CFCs, the study reports that the nanoporous structure can capture as much as 75% of its weight in hydrocarbons and fluorocarbons. Continue Reading Nanomaterials Fight Ozone-Depleting Greenhouse Gases

New York’s highest court has determined that towns could use local zoning ordinances to ban hydraulic fracturing (fracking).  The decision, issued June 30, 2014, is an important development in the debate about how fracking activities can be effectively “regulated” at the local level.   The New York Court of Appeals determined that the ordinances banning fracking were reasonable exercises of the towns zoning authority.  According to the Court of Appeals:  [the towns] engaged in a reasonable exercise of their zoning authority . . . when they adopted local laws clarifying that oil and gas extraction and production were not permissible uses in any zoning districts.” Continue Reading New York Court Upholds Local Zoning Ordinances Banning Fracking

Black lung disease is not a relic of the past.  A study released last month in the American Thoracic Society Journal shows a resurgence of the disease.  Using data from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the researchers found an eightfold increase in the past 15 years and the highest recorded levels since the federal government began regulating coal dust more than 40 years ago.

The prevalence of progressive massive fibrosis in the lungs of the coal workers studied was at the highest level since the early 1970s. Continue Reading Incidence of Black Lung Disease Reaches a 40-Year High