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Archive for the ‘Water Systems Security’ Category

Leaky Laws – Oil Spill Liability in New York

Posted on: May 26th, 2016
by David Ganje

Pipelines, even privately owned, are a publically regulated transportation and operating system. The question is not whether pipelines are “essential to our society.”  Pipelines are already integral to the country: the US had over 1,700,000 miles of oil and gas pipelines in 2014. Operating systems will malfunction. The process for legally authorizing operating systems should not. To paraphrase Norman Vincent Peale, the problem with most publically regulated systems is that they would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.

On September 2, 1978 the U.S. Coast Guard discovered evidence of an oil spill entering Newton Creek in Brooklyn. After launching an investigation, the government found over 17 million gallons of petroleum products that had leaked over a period of decades beneath the Greenpoint area, contaminating more than 50 acres of land. Today, new studies put the spill volume up to 30 million gallons. Cleanup began in 1979, but by 2006 only 9 million gallons had been cleaned up – less than a third of the known spill size. Cleanup continues today, with the aid of the federal government. The spill was designated a Superfund site. No one knows how long the leak existed before it was discovered
The relevant question should be how regulated pipeline leaks will be cleaned up, and who will pay for them. Under both Federal and state laws, the party responsible for a leak is the one responsible for cleanup. Usually the operator responsible prefers to take care of the cleanup themselves. Not only does this help soothe public relations problems resulting from a leak, but it helps the operator control the costs. However, a pipeline operator causing a spill may not always be willing or able to clean up a spill. The liable operator could be bankrupt, dissolved, or simply not have the money. The operator responsible for the Greenpoint spill was still in business and capable of footing the bill for their mistakes. This will not always be the case. Not all spills are flashy and obvious. Cleanup should not wait for years of court cases or bureaucratic lethargy. The money for a cleanup must be there, ready to be used.

New York has the NY Environmental Protection and Spill Compensation Fund (“Spill Fund”), established in 1977 to protect the state against petroleum spills. The fund is financed with a tax on petroleum products moving through the state, and any disbursements from the fund to pay for spill remediation is ideally recovered through penalties assigned to the responsible party. Third parties who are damaged by the spill can also file a claim with the Spill Fund and get their damages paid through the Fund, allowing the Fund to add those damages to the remediation it seeks from the responsible party.

This kind of fund is a good start. However, the fund is simply not large enough to handle the kind of oil spills that are possible in this era of pipelines and oil trains. For the 2014-2015 fiscal year, the Spill Fund spent over five million dollars more than it collected, bringing the fund’s total down to twenty-two million dollars. The fund spent thirty-two million that year. The 2015 state budget raised the cap on the Spill Fund from $25 million to $40 million. But even $40 million is not enough to handle the large spills when a company is not around to pay – in fact, $40 million is not even what the fund would be at if the cap had kept pace with inflation.

This is not to say that New York would be alone in a crisis. Both the Coast Guard and the EPA have trust funds in place to help states and the federal government. The Coast Guard’s fund only applies to spills into navigable waters, and cannot apply to cleaning up spills on land. But it would be there to help if the real disaster happened: a lengthy, voluminous spill into one of the many bodies of water in New York State, like the 2013 Enbridge spill in Michigan that cost more than a billion dollars to clean up. EPA maintains their Leaking Underground Storage Tank Fund for spills on land, but that fund is financed with a tax on motor fuel – a tax paid by private citizens, not the companies causing the damages in the first place.

Petroleum spills are not going away. The New York State Spill Hotline receives approximately 16,000 reports of spills each year, and the NY Dept. of Environmental Conservation estimates that approximately 90% of those reports involve petroleum products. Financial assurances for spills must be required before the damage happens, in amounts sufficient to cover the thousands of spills that happen every year. The legislature needs to create a modern statute addressing financial assurances by the operators for pipeline leaks.

Leaky Laws – The Keystone 1 Leak and Oil Spill Liability in South Dakota

Posted on: April 29th, 2016
by David Ganje

Pipelines, even privately owned, are a publically regulated transportation and operating system. The question is not whether pipelines are “essential to our society.”  Pipelines are already integral to the country. The US had over 1,700,000 miles of oil and gas pipelines in 2014. The fairness of pipeline easements to landowners is a separate matter. I have addressed that in blog articles on my website. When a pipeline leak occurs, it only deflects from the problem at hand to discuss a pipeline’s place in modern society. The media puts its attention on the statements of politicians after a pipeline leak has occurred.  Such media attention does address the question of how to manage the risk.  Operating systems will malfunction. The process for legally authorizing operating systems should not. To paraphrase Norman Vincent Peale, the problem with most publically regulated systems is that they would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.

On April 2nd, 2016 TransCanada announced that its Keystone 1 pipeline was leaking crude oil. Whatever leak detection system was in place on the pipeline failed, as the leak was discovered and reported by a local South Dakota landowner. On April 5th the operator shut down the pipeline. TransCanada initially reported that 187 gallons had been spilled. Days later they reported that over 18,600 gallons of oil had already leaked from the pipeline. This leak is one of the largest in the history of the State. The relevant question should be how regulated pipeline leaks will be cleaned up, and who will pay for them.

Under both Federal and state laws, the party responsible for a leak is the one responsible for cleanup. Usually a company like TransCanada prefers to take care of the cleanup itself. Not only does this help soothe public relations problems resulting from a leak, but it helps the operator control the costs. While South Dakota’s Department of Environmental and Natural Resources is supervising of the cleanup, TransCanada is currently managing the cleanup and hiring the contractors for the job. But a pipeline operator causing a spill may not always be willing or able to clean up a spill. The liable operator could be bankrupt, dissolved, or perhaps not have the money. In these cases, clean up cannot wait for years of court cases or bureaucratic lethargy. The money for a cleanup needs to be there, ready to be used.

The state tells us that ‘them what operates a car must financially assure the public against the risk of its operation.’ Thus, the state has mandatory car insurance.  Alas, no such state mandatory insurance law protects the public against the risk of a pipeline spill. The last time a bill was introduced to create financial assurances like this was 2008 (Senate Bill 138 from the 2008 session). This proposed law was a good start. The bill stated in part:

“…financial assurance, in a reasonable and proper amount for the remediation of potential damage to the environment that could be caused by the activity . . . may include insurance, a surety bond, escrow account, letter of credit, trust, guarantee, or cash deposit.”

Of course, special interest killed this bill.

South Dakota has in place a trust fund, created through taxes, which is available to pay for emergency response to spills, and ideally to cover for situations where the operator does not or cannot pay. According to the state, these would be the funds used for cleanup operations if TransCanada was not paying.

The problem is that this fund is not bottomless. DENR’s FY 2015 budget request reports that the 2013 end-of-year balance on the fund was $2.93 million. When a big spill happens, the fund could be strained. For example, the fund spent $1,750,000 in 2008. DENR estimates that the fund may have to manage as many as 200 to 250 spills every year, because this fund doesn’t just cover oil spills – it also has to cover spills of pesticides, fertilizers, and any other hazardous substances and pollutants. Bills have been introduced to create a special fund to cover just pipeline leaks in the SD legislature in 2009, 2010, and 2011. The proposals were shot down every time. It is only a matter of time before there is a large spill that does not have a company around to pay for the cleanup. And the damages from such a spill could be significant, especially if the leaked substance enters groundwater and spreads. When that happens, the remaining funds in the SDRSR are not going to make a dent. The legislature needs to create a modern statute addressing financial assurances for pipeline leaks.

David Ganje practices law in the area of natural resources, environmental and commercial law in South Dakota and North Dakota. His website is Lexenergy.net

Letter to the Editor: A South Dakota Water Lottery

Posted on: October 20th, 2014
by David Ganje

Letter to the Editor: A South Dakota Water Lottery

Posted Aberdeen American News, Farm Forum: Monday, October 13, 2014 9:08 am

by David Ganje

While it has yet to come to the attention of the national environmental and natural resources community, the South Dakota state legislature passed a first-in-the-nation law this year in the field of natural resources. The state will use a ‘lottery system’ for the issuance of certain state managed water permits. The water lottery system is combined with a moratorium on water use for identified water bodies managed by the state. Under current South Dakota law, all water within the state’s jurisdiction is property of the people of the state. The right to the use of water may be acquired by private parties and municipalities by a state-managed appropriation procedure. The state has been historically a first in time, first in right state when granting water use rights. South Dakota’s ‘water management’ jurisdiction does not however apply to Indian Country or on federal lands. Water use in South Dakota is authorized when the state Water Management Board grants a private, beneficial use of the state’s water resources. An example of a private use is an irrigation permit. A water use permit is issued either as a new water use or as a vested water right for an existing water use if it predates 1955.

The new water lottery system comes into play in situations where the state Water Board has determined that an existing groundwater source is ‘fully appropriated.’ A water source is fully appropriated when the state rules that no new or further access to the water should be granted because it would prejudice the ability of the water source to recharge to an acceptable level. The lottery system will not apply to open or unappropriated aquifers. The Water Board under the new legislation can accept water permit applications even for a fully appropriated aquifer. A 30 day application time period will also be set for a fully appropriated aquifer by public notice. The notice gives prospective applicants the right to apply under the lottery system. The applications are then placed in a lottery drawing system. The actual method for drawing successful applicants has not yet been implemented but will be announced in the next several weeks. The ‘winning’ applicants will then have to wait under the state’s five-year moratorium on approval of permits in those instances when the state has made a designation of a ‘fully appropriated aquifer.’

A lottery system for resource development permits has been used in the past, but never by a state for access to state managed water. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management used a lottery system for granting oil and gas leases until 1987 but has not used it since. The state, of course, does not call this new law a lottery system. I do. The new unchallenged law describes the lottery system as a procedure in which, “the board shall create a priority list using a random selection process to be determined by the board.” This new lottery system is an effort to cure problems in past experiences when an aquifer is placed in a moratorium. One cannot criticize the conceptual fairness of the new law. The statutes attempt to treat water permit applicants seeking access to a particular aquifer equally by using the “random selection process” in a moratorium scenario. The law itself has some challenges in its language as well as in its untested procedure. It is soon to be implemented by the state Water Board and the S.D. DENR. The new law is a unique effort by the state to deal with natural resources stewardship issues. In that regard the legislature should be applauded. Will the bar of reason support this brave new attempt at fairness? Time will tell.

 

Tags: Environmental Law, Infrastructure Security, Natural Resources Law, Water Law, Water Regulation, Water Rights, Water Systems Security

Illinois Association of American Water Works Recognizes Ganje’s Water Workshops

Posted on: September 19th, 2014
by David Ganje

Illinois Association of American Water Works Recognizes Ganje’s Water Workshops

The Illinois Section of the American Water Works Association (ISAWWA) has recognized David Ganje of Ganje Law Offices for his recent workshops given for the Association.  David Ganje recently presented two specialized workshops to the ISAWWA on the subjects of water law and water security. The Association wrote letters of appreciation to Mr. Ganje for the work and will use the presentations in future workshops.

Ganje Selected as Super Lawyer for 2014

Posted on: September 1st, 2014
by David Ganje

Ganje selected as Super Lawyer for 2014

David Ganje has been selected to the 2014 New York Super Lawyers list in the category of energy and natural resources. Each year no more than five percent of the lawyers in the state are selected by the research team at Super Lawyers to receive this honor. Super Lawyers is a rating service of outstanding lawyers from more than 70 practice areas who have attained a high degree of peer recognition and professional achievement