Saturday, November 29, 2014

NW residents fear derailments and explosions/ Falling oil prices: what impact?

Trains carrying oil raise tough questions in Pacific Northwest

As crude oil rail shipments increase, residents fear derailments and explosions.

Jeremy Miller Nov 24, 2014  High Country News

....Bakken oil is a “light sweet” crude with a flashpoint close to that of gasoline. Its dangers made headlines in July 2013, when a train derailed and exploded in the small town of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, killing 47 people and devastating much of the town. Lac-Mégantic became the symbol of the dangers of transporting oil by train, but it has not been the only serious accident. According to the Associated Press, at least 10 oil trains have derailed in the U.S. and Canada since 2008 — five in the last 18 months. One in Lynchburg, Virginia, triggered a huge fire and spilled tens of thousands of gallons of oil into the James River.

Lawmakers and regulators have proposed new rules to make oil trains safer and to provide more information to first responders about their contents and routes. But the recent accidents have intensified long-simmering anxiety across the Northwest over proposed export terminals slated to send vast quantities of coal, natural gas and oil overseas. While energy companies see rail as an integral part of oil transport’s future in the Northwest, environmentalists see oil trains as incompatible with the region’s efforts to curb its carbon emissions and reduce fossil fuel dependency. ...

... Last December, BP’s Cherry Point refinery, east of Bellingham, began receiving 70,000 barrels of Bakken oil per day through its new oil-by-rail facility.

The refinery, 90 miles north of Seattle, sits beside the proposed location of the controversial Gateway Pacific coal terminal, which, if built, could ship 54 million metric tons of coal overseas annually.  Such a project, says de Place, would swamp the state’s nascent effort to cut carbon emissions. ...

“This is provoking a sort of existential crisis,” says de Place. “(The) region has historically been very green-minded and has prided itself on leadership in climate policy. And it’s now poised to become a carbon-export hub of global ­significance.” {subscription site: read more here}

Falling oil prices: what impact on North American crude by rail?

In Benicia, some are wondering about implications for and against Valero’s crude-by-rail proposal

By Roger Straw, November 29, 2014   The Benicia Independent
The business news pages of mainline media are repeatedly trumpeting the dramatic decline in the price of oil.  Regular folks here are happy to see gas prices at the pump at or below $3/gallon.  Business Insider reports that “The decline in the price of oil has been fast and furious, with oil prices falling more than 30% since June.”  This has been near disastrous for some petroleum producers.  (See links below for details.)

New Eastern Outlook author William Engdahl offered a broad global political perspective on November 3.  According to Engdahl, “The collapse in US oil prices since September may very soon collapse the US shale oil bubble and tear away the illusion that the United States will surpass Saudi Arabia and Russia as the world’s largest oil producer. That illusion, fostered by faked resource estimates issued by the US Department of Energy, has been a lynchpin of Obama geopolitical strategy.”

Engdahl continues, “The end of the shale oil bubble would deal a devastating blow to the US oil geopolitics. Today an estimated 55% of US oil production and all the production increase of the past several years comes from fracking for shale oil. With financing cut off because of economic risk amid falling oil prices, shale oil drillers will be forced to halt new drilling that is needed merely to maintain a steady oil output.”  ..... read more here

The Syncrude Aurora Oil Sands Mine, north of Fort McMurray, Canada. Photo: Elias Schewel via Flickr.

The Syncrude Aurora Oil Sands Mine, north of Fort McMurray, Canada. Photo: Elias Schewel via Flickr.

Tar sands industry faces 'existential' $246 billion loss

Gregory McGann    Ecologist 11/27/14

One of the most destructive forms of oil production is financially nonsensical and faces total collapse, according to a new report by the Carbon Tracker Initiative (CTI), Oil Sands: Fact sheets.

The report suggests that that investors are being misled about the economic viability of oil sands production, which is doing irreparable damage to the pristine boreal forests of northwestern Canada.

CTI, an environmentally-aware financial analysis company, argues that future oil sands projects, besides being environmentally disastrous, are also financially catastrophic and are leading their investors towards serious loss....

... CTI calculate that 92% of future oil sands production will only viable if oil prices are $95 per barrel. However, prices stand at only $85, so producers are losing money for every barrel of oil they sell - unless they are cushioned by existing higher-priced contracts, which will sooner or later expire.

The recent decline has thus "changed the whole dynamic for regions of marginal production - most noticeably the oil sands of Alberta" - and investors are facing significant losses unless oil prices pick up rapidly....  read more here

Friday, November 28, 2014

The Big Difference Between Oil "Condtioning" and "Stabilization"- and other news

Speak Your Piece: N.D.'s Other Oil Boom

By Ron Schalow    Daily Yonder   11/24/14

.... Bakken crude needs to be “stabilized,” to remove all explosive “natural gas liquids” such as ethane, propane and butane. That requires billions of dollars in additional equipment and infrastructure, and the oil companies don’t want to pay for it.

Stabilization is a standard practice in many other parts of the United States. And it’s a required part of preparing crude for shipment via pipelines. The explosion risk North Dakota’s lack of regulation imposes on railroad communities all over North America is completely unnecessary. And requiring stabilization would a further boost to the state’s economy. But that’s not enough for the commission.

Instead, the commission is going to sell a different process called “conditioning,” which the oil companies have been doing all along. And conditioning doesn’t do the job, unless you think that job should include towering fireballs, mushroom clouds, charred buildings and graves.

Railway Age explains the difference well:

This conditioning lowers the ignition temperature of crude oil—but not by much. It leaves in solution most of the culprit gases, including butane and propane. Even the industry itself says conditioning would not make Bakken crude meaningfully safer for transportation, though it would make the state’s crude more consistent from one well to another.

The only solution for safety is stabilization, which evaporates and re-liquefies nearly all of the petroleum gases for separate delivery to refiners. Stabilization is voluntarily and uniformly practiced in the Eagle Ford formation in Texas.

... read more here


How various reductions stack up in the Mixed Case:

Yes, the U.S. can reduce emissions 80% by 2050 — in 6 graphs

So, I’ve got good news and bad news.

The good news: There is no substantial technical or economic barrier that would prevent the U.S. from reducing its greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, a target that would help put the world on track to limit global average temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius. In fact, there are multiple pathways to that target, each involving a different mix of technologies. Achieving the goal would cost only around 1 percent of GDP a year out through 2050, and if we started now, we could allow infrastructure to turn over at its natural rate, avoiding stranded assets.

The bad news: Pulling it off would require immediate, intelligent, coordinated, vigorously executed policies that sustain themselves over decades. Y’know, like how America does. [cough]

These are the conclusions of a new report on U.S. decarbonization from the Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project, to which I drew your attention yesterday..... read more here

Lac-Mégantic property owners receive compensation instalment from Quebec

 Montreal Gazette  11/24/14

The provincial government announced Monday that the first instalment of money set aside to compensate owners of buildings destroyed in the explosion and fire in Lac Mégantic has been transferred.

A total of $1.8 million has been sent to the town. A notary will disburse the funds to nine owners. Others will be paid later.....  read more here

Oil Tanks After OPEC Fails to Cut Production; US Shale Gas Targeted?

Oil Tanks After OPEC Fails to Cut Production; US Shale Gas Targeted?

Naked Capitalism     by
After a testy meeting, OPEC agreed to maintain current production targets. The failure to support oil prices via reducing production led to a sharp fall in prices on Thursday, with West Texas Intermediate crude dropping by over 6% and Brent plunging over 8% before rebounding to finish the day 6.7% lower, at $72.55 a barrel. Many analysts believe that oil could continue its slide to $60 a barrel.

WSJ on OPEC price reaction

The ripple effects hit currency markets and, of course, energy stocks. The Wall Street Journal emphasized the potential upside for the US economy, with lower energy prices giving consumers more money to spend elsewhere. Energy importing countries will also benefit. In keeping with our reaction to Saudi’s earlier decision to let oil prices slide, more and more commentators are seeing the OPEC refusal to support the market as at least in part designed to target the US shale gas industry. despite official denials. From the From the Financial Times:
 “I wouldn’t call it a price war, but it’s a very aggressive test for US shale,” said Jamie Webster, oil analyst at IHS Energy, a consultancy. “It’s a new gambit for Opec to try.”…
read more here

Petition Seeks to Limit Length, Weight of Oil Trains/ NJ Regulators Bypassed Public

Petition Seeks to Limit Length, Weight of Oil and Hazardous Material Trains to Prevent More Derailments

Center for Biological Diversity

11/26/14   The Center For Biological Diversity

 Download the 11-page petition here.

Existing Federal Proposals Fail to Sufficiently Protect Public, Environment From “Bomb Trains”

PORTLAND, Ore.— In the face of a dramatic rise in trains carrying explosive crude oil and derailing in a series of devastating accidents, the Center for Biological Diversity and Riverkeeper, Inc. today petitioned the Obama administration to protect the public and environment by significantly reducing the risk of oil train derailments by limiting the length and weight of trains hauling oil and other hazardous liquids.

Federal regulators have acknowledged that the weight and length of oil trains has contributed to derailments and spills in recent years, and that, in all cases, the size of a train compounds the potential significance of a disaster. But agencies have not proposed any solutions to address this concern. In fact the latest federal proposal aimed at improving tanker car safety admits the rule could result in longer, heavier trains.

“One of the quickest ways to make these oil trains safer is limiting how much of this volatile crude oil they can carry,” said Jared Margolis, an attorney at the Center who focuses on the impacts of energy development on endangered species. “The government has acknowledged the dangers of these massive trains — now it needs to take action to protect people and wildlife from spills and derailments.”

Today’s petition calls for oil trains to be limited to 4,000 tons, which is the weight the American Association of Railroads has determined to be a “no problem” train, meaning there would be significantly less risk of derailment. This would limit oil trains to 30 cars. Most oil trains today include about 100 cars — well beyond what the industry has determined to be truly safe.

“Federal regulators have admitted these oil trains pose a significant risk to life, property and the environment, and granting our petition would significantly reduce those risks,” said Phillip Musegaas, Hudson River Program Director for Riverkeeper. “The government, to date, has left the lid off this explosive industry — setting a cap on train length and weight is a necessary, logical, safety step that is one of the simplest ways to reduce the risks that our communities, first responders and ecosystems are confronted with on a daily basis.” .... read entire press release here

New Jersey regulators bypassed public in permitting oil trains   11/26/14

SHARPLY INCREASING the amount of oil transported by rail through New Jersey is not a "minor modification" and should not have been approved by the state without public notice.

The result is that the public continues to remain largely in the dark about trains carrying crude oil through the area....

...Without a public hearing, the state Department of Environmental Protection issued a permit on Nov. 6 to let Buckeye Partners accept large amounts of Canadian tar sands oil at its Perth Amboy terminal and also granted its request to increase the amount of oil it can transfer there annually to almost 1.8 billion gallons.
This means that an additional 330 oil trains could travel New Jersey's freight lines each year...  read more here

Thursday, November 27, 2014

State ‘Dodged a Bullet’ in Feather River Derailment

State ‘Dodged a Bullet’ in Feather River Derailment, OES Says

November 26, 2014, by Lonnie Wong,  Fox40

Union Pacific work crews continue to clear a 12-car derailment that dumped a shipment of corn into the Feather River.

The Union Pacific rail line along the Feather River is a major route for bulk goods into and out of California.  While the track has been cleared, train traffic is being held back periodically while the delicate clean-up process moves forward....

... corn isn’t the only freight that is hauled through the scenic canyon.

“In this particular case, we dodged a bullet,” California Office of Emergency Services Communications Director Kelly Huston said.

OES says two oil trains carry volatile Bakken crude oil through the Feather River canyon each week  a million gallons at a time.

It’s the same crude oil that has exploded into flames and polluted rivers in several train derailments over the past year and a half.

“As the train travels through the Feather River it eventually ends up in downtown Sacramento and into Stockton and into the bay area and it’s traveling through a lot of high population centers,” Huston said. “As it gets into high population areas it could also pose a threat if there’s a fire and explosion.”.... read more here

New Canada safety chief urges tougher oil-by-rail measures

Kathy Fox, new chairwoman of the independent federal agency, said Canada and the United States must agree on tougher standards for tanker cars that carry volatile fuels. Shipments of crude by train have soared over the past few years as oil output has increased while pipeline capacity has not....

... In July, the government said that the next generation of tank cars should be made of thicker steel and require full head shields.

Federal regulators in Canada and the United States are looking at how to fortify the 2011 standards but have not announced any new measures. The rail industry is deeply integrated across the two countries, making it difficult to make unilateral regulatory changes.

"Our concern is that the standards that are in place today (for transporting dangerous goods) are not necessarily rigorous enough and we want them to be strengthened," Fox said....  read more here

Vancouver Energy: A History Of Subterfuge

  In Our View: A History Of Subterfuge

Typo on mailer may be honest mistake, but oil terminal backers fail to inspire trust

The Columbian  November 23, 2014

As anybody in the newspaper business can attest, typos happen.
Those would be typographical errors, and they have been around essentially since the advent of written languages. A dropped letter here, an added word there, and a reporter or editor could find themselves in a difficult situation....

... Propaganda is part of the game, and the parties that make up Vancouver Energy — Tesoro Corp. and Savage Companies — have every right to try to sway public opinion. But, in the process, they managed to obfuscate the facts. The flier boasts that the projected annual tax revenue generated by the terminal would be $2 billion. That is more than a bit misleading, considering that annual tax revenue is projected to be $7.8 million — or roughly 0.4 percent of $2 billion. The $2 billion, it turns out, is the projected economic value of the terminal during construction and the first 15 years of operation....

... the companies involved with Vancouver Energy have demonstrated a long history of subterfuge. And it didn't take a typo on a mailer to reveal that.    read article here

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Concern Grows Over Urban Crude-by-Rail Routes

Darrin Radermacher-  A fireball shoots up at the site of a train derailment near the North Dakota town of Casselton, Dec. 30, 2013.

Gov’t Data Sharpens Focus on Crude-Oil Train Routes

A ProPublica analysis of federal government data adds new details to what’s known about the routes taken by trains carrying crude oil. Local governments are often unaware of the potential dangers they face.

by Isaiah Thompson, special to ProPublica, Nov. 25, 2014

The oil boom underway in North Dakota has delivered jobs to local economies and helped bring the United States to the brink of being a net energy exporter for the first time in generations.

But moving that oil to the few refineries with the capacity to process it is presenting a new danger to towns and cities nationwide — a danger many appear only dimly aware of and are ill-equipped to handle.

Much of North Dakota's oil is being transported by rail, rather than through pipelines, which are the safest way to move crude. Tank carloads of crude are up 50 percent this year from last. Using rail networks has saved the oil and gas industry the time and capital it takes to build new pipelines, but the trade-off is greater risk: Researchers estimates that trains are three and a half times as likely as pipelines to suffer safety lapses....

.... since 2012, when petroleum crude oil first began moving by rail in large quantities, there have been eight major accidents involving trains carrying crude in North America....

See our interactive map of the crude-oil train data.
In those and other cases, local emergency responders were overwhelmed by the conflagrations resulting from these accidents. Residents often had no idea that such a dangerous cargo, and in such volume, was being transported through their towns....  read more here

San Jose council member urges rejection of Central California refinery's crude-by-rail project

By Tom Lochner   Oakland Tribune    11/25/14
BERKELEY -- As the deadline arrived for comments to an environmental report on a Central California crude-by-rail project, a San Jose City councilman got the early jump, announcing his opposition in a news release Monday afternoon. 

The Phillips 66 Company Rail Spur Extension Project would bring as many as 250 unit trains a year with 80 tank cars plus locomotives and supporting cars to a new crude oil unloading facility in Santa Maria from the north or from the south along tracks owned by the Union Pacific Railroad.
Likely itineraries for the crude oil supplies coming from out-of-state include the Union Pacific Railroad tracks along the eastern shore of San Pablo and San Francisco bays that also carry Amtrak's Capitol Corridor and Coast Starlight trains.
"This will allow mile-long oil trains carrying millions of gallons of explosive, toxic crude oil in unsafe tank cars to travel through California every day," reads a news release from San Jose City Councilman Ash Kalra. "These trains will travel through the Bay Area passing neighborhoods in San Jose, including Kalra's District 2 in south San Jose. This proposed plan threatens the residents and families along the rail routes and also threatens the environment and local water supplies." ....
read more here

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Protesters defy authorities over Trans Mountain pipeline

Police patrol as a Kinder Morgan employee drills on Burnaby Mountain
- See more at: protesters defy authorities over Trans Mountain pipeline

Trans Mountain 20141124_2.jpg

Police patrol as a Kinder Morgan employee drills on Burnaby Mountain - See more at:

Police patrol as a Kinder Morgan employee drills on Burnaby Mountain

Canadian protesters defy authorities over Trans Mountain pipeline

Proposed expansion would triple tar sands capacity and endanger coastal waters in British Columbia, local groups say

November 25, 2014  by Renee Lewis  Al Jazeera

A proposed pipeline expansion that would transport tar sands oil through a park in British Columbia has unified Canadians from all walks of life in their opposition to the project — which they said does not respect public opinion and could endanger both land and sea.

“I’ve never seen in my 30 years of being environmentally active an issue that so galvanizes so many people,” said John Bennet, executive director of Sierra Club Canada. “It’s absolutely clear that the public, not just a handful of crazies willing to get arrested, don’t want it.”...According to a local poll, 70 percent of residents oppose the expansion....

...Indigenous peoples in Canada have a constitutional right to be consulted about any actions the government plans to take on their territory. But aboriginal protesters said their opposition is being ignored — that the hearings are a facade.

The NEB’s handling of the Trans Mountain expansion has also led to infringements on the rights of cities, according to Harsha Walia, a Burnaby resident and legal liaison tracking arrests for protesters.

“The NEB has never had the authority to override laws, but now the NEB has been empowered to overrule any municipal laws that exist,” Walia said.....  read more here

Tsartlip members cite environment in opposing Trans Mountain pipeline

Katie DeRosa / Times Colonist   November 24, 2014

Members of the Tsartlip First Nation in Central Saanich voiced their opposition to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion at National Energy Board hearings in Victoria Monday, saying the project would increase tanker traffic along the West Coast, threatening sensitive marine life on which First Nations people rely.

Tsartlip elder and former band chief Simon Smith said First Nations groups on Vancouver Island would not rule out demonstrations against the pipeline such as the ones ongoing on Burnaby Mountain, which have led to dozens of arrests and tense clashes between police and protesters.

…“Our food source is in that area and one spill would mean a disaster to that area,” said Smith, 75, who has 16 great-grandchildren and 32 great-great grandchildren.

“My time is almost over. What I’m doing is looking after the future.”

Smith said elders are talking about bringing together the 150 tribes of the Coast Salish territory for a united voice…. Read more here