Friday, February 26, 2016

Rail Bridge Inspection Requests

FRA Launches Website for States and Municipalities to Request Bridge Inspection Reports

Agency also requests resources to double bridge safety staff, create national database of bridges
WASHINGTON – The Federal Railroad Administration today launched a new tool on its website that allows states and municipalities to request inspection reports for rail bridges in their communities. The tool is being launched following the passage of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act and is one of the first provisions FRA has implemented. FRA also announced today that it has requested additional resources as part of the President’s Fiscal Year 2017 budget to double its bridge specialist staff and create a national bridge inventory database and website.
“Communities across the country will now have access to information on the condition of railroad bridges in their area,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “These inspection reports will provide greater transparency between railroads and local leaders, which is an important cornerstone in our comprehensive safety efforts.”
A state or a political subdivision of a state, such as a city, county, town or municipality, can now use FRA’s website to request information from inspection reports for local bridges via Once FRA receives the request, the railroad that owns the bridge will have 30 days to respond to the request. FRA plans to provide a copy of the report to the requester within 45 days of the original request.
According to the FAST Act, the following information about the bridge will be included in the report: the date of the last inspection; length of bridge; location of bridge; type of bridge (superstructure); type of structure (substructure); features crossed by the bridge; railroad contact information; and a general statement on the condition of the bridge.
“The Federal Railroad Administration has repeatedly urged railroads to be more responsive and more transparent with state and local leaders concerned about the condition of their local railroad bridges. State and local officials will now be able to get more information from railroads on the infrastructure in their communities,” FRA Administrator Sarah E. Feinberg said. “Providing inspection reports to local leaders is a great first step, but more can—and must—be done. We hope Congress will provide the resources to double our bridge safety staff and create a national database.”
The FAST Act addressed the issue after months of Administrator Feinberg repeatedly urging railroads to be more transparent and respond to communities when they have questions and concerns about the condition of rail bridges.
Last September, the Administrator sent a letter to all railroads saying, “When a local leader or elected official asks a railroad about the safety status of a railroad bridge, they deserve a timely and transparent response. I urge you to engage more directly with local leaders and provide timely information to assure the community that the bridges in their communities are safe and structurally sound.” While addressing, the Railroad Safety Advisory Committee in November 2015, Administrator Feinberg again told railroads that, “When FRA is asked about bridge safety, it’s frequently because, again, the public or a member of Congress become concerned and has tried to get answers from a railroad, and they have been ignored or put off.”
Friday, February 26, 2016

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Oceanic Climate Change & OPEC Efficiency

Decaying algal foam on a beach (Image courtesy of Dr Richard Kirby)
Often mistaken for pollution, foam found on beaches is the decaying remains of vast colonies of phytoplankton commonly known as foam algae.

Climate stirring change beneath the waves

Environment reporter, BBC News 

Human-induced climate change is triggering changes beneath the waves that could have a long-term effect on marine food webs, a study suggests.
An assessment of phytoplankton in the North Atlantic found the microscopic organisms' pole-ward shift was faster than previously reported.
It observed that the ocean's tiny plant community was "poised for marked shift and shuffle".
The findings appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"Marine phytoplankton are crucial in marine food webs and global biogeochemical cycles and they are incredibly diverse but we don't really have a sense of what all the different organisms do when you modify climate, or even through natural climate variability," explained co-author Andrew Barton, a researcher at Princeton University, working at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory.
He told BBC News: "This study attempted to get a handle on how all these different kinds of organisms may respond to anthropogenic climate change over the coming century."

Climate change takes from the poor, gives to the rich, study finds

February 24, 2016 via

Fish and other important resources are moving toward the Earth's poles as the climate warms, and wealth is moving with them, according to a new paper by scientists at Rutgers, Princeton, Yale, and Arizona State universities. 

Climate change is forcing some species of migrating fish to shift their range toward the poles, which means big changes for people whose livelihoods depend on those fish.
"What we find is that natural resources like fish are being pushed around by climate change, and that changes who gets access to them," said Malin Pinsky, professor of ecology & evolution in the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences.
The stronger and more conservation-oriented the  management in a community, the higher the value that community places on its natural resources, whether those resources are increasing or diminishing, Pinsky reports. If wealthier communities and countries are more likely to have strong resource management, then these wealthy groups are more likely to benefit, thus exacerbating inequality.
Pinsky and his co-authors have published their findings in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Saudi Arabia's Oil Minister Suggests Canada, Others Will Have To 'Get Out' Of Oil

via Huffington Post Canada , video at link
Saudi Arabia’s oil minister has a solution for the global oil glut: Instead of cutting oil production, wait for the world’s most expensive producers to go bust.
Ali Al-Naimi didn’t specifically single out the U.S.’s shale oil fields and Canada’s oilsands as the targets of his comments at an oil industry conference in Houston, Tex., on Tuesday. But as those two are among the most expensive oil plays in the world today, the target of his comments was clear.
“Efficient markets will determine where on the cost curve the marginal barrel resides,” Al-Naimi said, as quoted at Forbes. He added later: “Inefficient producers will have to get out.”
Al-Naimi rejected the idea of an OPEC production cut, saying they won't work to boost oil prices. Cutting production would mean low-cost producers like Saudi Arabia would be subsidizing higher-cost ones.
Low-cost producers cutting their own production “only delays an inevitable reckoning," he said.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Another Domino: Longview Projects Rejected!

Longview Says Oil Refinery & Propane Terminal is Dirty & Dangerous

Press release via Columbia Riverkeeper

Port of Longview Rejects Proposed Columbia River Oil Refinery and Propane Export Terminal

Port of Longview, image courtesy of The Daily News.
Port of Longview, image courtesy of The Daily News.
Feb. 23, 2016 (Longview, WA) – The Port of Longview commissioners voted unanimously to end negotiations with Waterside Energy, the backers of a controversial oil refinery and propane export terminal. Waterside proposed the first west coast oil refinery in 25 years and the first ever on the Columbia River.
Local educators, first responders, and conservation groups praised the Port’s decision. “I’ve taught in schools near oil refineries—the smell was hard to live with but the rate of childhood cancer was devastating. Today, the port commission did the right thing for Longview’s children,” said Krista Mead, elementary school teacher at Columbia Valley Garden Elementary School.
Waterside proposed serving the refinery and the propane terminal with trains. “If there was a large oil train incident, we would have to call in help from outside areas to respond to the current level of flammable materials traveling through our service area,” said Glen Hudson, a volunteer with the Cowlitz 2 fire department. “The port commission rejected a project that we are unprepared to respond to. Statistics from 2016 already reveal that we are facing a higher volume of emergency response calls—our resources are already being stretched too thin. If the fire department expanded to meet the risk that Waterside poses, taxpayers would bear the burden.”
The Port’s decision marks the latest in a string of defeats for fossil fuel projects on the Columbia River. In addition to Waterside, the Port of Longview previously rejected a propane export terminal by Haven Energy. The City of Portland rejected a propane terminal proposed by Pembina.
“Our region values clean water and healthy communities,” said Brett VandenHeuvel, Executive Director of Columbia Riverkeeper. “Dirty fossil fuel projects fly in the face of these values. The Port of Longview heard loud and clear from its constituents: an oil refinery and propane terminal are dirty and dangerous.”
“This community presented a compelling argument against the Waterside oil refinery and propane terminal,” stated Kelso resident Linda Horst. “By voting ‘no’, our port commissioners demonstrated a sincere desire to work not only for the community, but with the community. I thank them for the resounding ‘no’ vote.”
Oil refinery opponents flagged the checkered history of Waterside Energy. In 2014, Waterside Energy’s backers abandoned their biodiesel facility in Odessa, Washington, firing all employees and leaving over $1.6 million in unpaid bills. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency conducted an emergency cleanup at the site after discovering dangerous, leaking chemicals. Today’s vote ends two years of negotiations –largely behind closed doors – to build the first oil refinery on the Columbia.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Recently Shelved Projects

Flashback! from 2013:

Tue Aug 20, 2013 12:07am EDT via Reuters

Oil-by-rail pioneer U.S. Development Group cashing up, not out

Emboldened by the early success, the company ramped up its 

investments in the crude-by-rail business, reckoning - wrongly - that 

the best bet would be in Canada, where producers were grappling 

with how to ship viscous oil sands by pipeline.

"The timing was not right. They were all about Keystone and 

pipeline growth," he said of early talks with producers.

Instead, USD built a receiving terminal in St. James, Louisiana, 

the trading point for the Gulf Coast's main light, sweet crude, 

eventually expanding it to one of the country's biggest, capable of 

unloading two unit trains at 130,000 bpd.

It went on to build up a stake in nearly every major shale play, 

including North Dakota, where it helped to break BNSF's early 

advantage, and Colorado's Niobrara and Texas' Eagle Ford.

It was a good bet because the volume of U.S. crude oil shipped by 

rail has surged from next to nothing in 2010 to as much as 750,000 

barrels per day (bpd), equivalent to about a tenth of the country's 

production. Total U.S. oil production has reached the highest in 

over two decades.
The company's latest foray is into the crude-by-rail business 
in Hardisty, Alberta, where together with Gibson Energy Inc 
(GEI.TO)  USD will build one of three terminals capable of 
handling unit trains. 

USD is the company that is proposing a 
Crude Oil terminal near Bowerman Basin.

USD Group withdraws proposal to expand Alberta oil-by-rail facility

Planned US coal ports: 

a swift trip from vital 

to irrelevant

Port projects in permitting phase in the US Pacific northwest

Three short years ago, the conventional wisdom was both that growing thermal coal demand in Asia couldn’t be met by regional suppliers, and that low-cost coal from the US would fill the breech. Several new coal ports, notably in Oregon and Washington, were already in the early stages of permit approval, hoping to help fill this void.
 The intervening three years have made clear what a miscalculation this was. Opposition to the major projects – Gateway Pacific, Millennium and Port Morrow – has been effective, led by a broad coalition of environmental groups, tribal nations and local and national governments . But as challenging  as this was for port developers, the larger problem has been economic.

Monday, February 15, 2016

New Rule: You Need to Pay for That.

Washington asks if railroads could afford $700M oil train spill

Saturday, February 13, 2016

"crude oil is bad for fish"


Fish deformities spiked after Lac-Mégantic oil spill, report says

via Hamilton Spectator
MONTREAL Scientists have recorded an "unprecedented" spike in the fish deformities in the wake of the deadly 2013 train derailment and oil spill in Lac-Mégantic, Que., according to a provincial government report.
The report into the effects of the disaster on the 185-km-long Chaudière River, which begins in Lac Mégantic, found that in some parts of the river as many as 47 per cent of the fish they collected had an external deformation.
The rate of deformations greatly surpassed that recorded in a similar fish population study in 1994. The study also found a "marked drop" in the river's fish biomass, or total weight.
"There is no hypothesis other than the oil spill of July 6, 2013 that can explain these results," says the report, which got little attention when it was released last November. It was brought to wider attention Wednesday when resurrected by Montreal's Le Devoir newspaper.

The Train Derailment That Gushed Oil Into A Quebec River
Has Spawned Freaky Fish

via Vice News
By Jake Bleiberg February 11, 2016 | 9:00 am

Two-and-a-half years after a train carrying millions of gallons of crude oil derailed and exploded in the small Quebec town of Lac-Mégantic, scientists are finding deformities in the fish living in nearby rivers.
That's led the government to a revelation: crude oil is bad for fish.

No shit.
What is shocking, however, is the extent of the problem: the rate of the deformations in one sample was found to be ten times higher than normal.---------------Normally such abnormalities are found in fewer than five percent of fish and back in 1994 their occurrence was even lower in the Chaudière, the report states. But in the year following the oil spill the river's fish showed much higher rates of deformity — with two samples reaching 35 and 47 percent. The study also noted a significant drop in river's fish biomass, or collective weight.
"In addition to being much higher than in 1994, the rate of anomalies in the Chaudière River in 2014 significantly exceeded what is generally observed in all other waterways of Quebec," the report states. "These high rates are attributable, in all likelihood, to the July 2013 oil spill."Although the spilled oil still seems to be affecting the fish, the waters of the Chaudière are largely free of it and the scope and concentration of oil in the riverbed has fallen significantly since 2013. The persistent impact on the fish didn't surprise Isabelle Picard, an aquatic biologist, who said toxins in the sediments where fish spawn are a major driver of deformities.
How would you like to have all the info and action items about Crude, Coal and other plans around the Northwest sent to you in a friendly email once a week or so? Sign Lynne Oulmans petition and find out what you can do in a timely manner.

Good Evening Petitioners (Feb. 13, 2016, 5.30 PM),
How are you all holding up?  I have not been getting a lot of feedback and thought it might be good to put this on top of the list today. Comments besides submissions are always welcome.
The actions keep coming and the work seems never ending.  I wish we could get our State to ask for a ProgrammaticCumulative Studyof all the fossil fuel projects focusing on Washington and Oregon. It seems like the obvious thing to do – a regional investigation of all the problems associated with fossil fuel and related industrial development.  Instead, we must continue this game of wack-a mole.

Once again, I hope you will dig in your toes and hold the line. Our children and theirs deserve at least this much. Thank you as always for your never-ending efforts.  I hope you have a happy and safe Valentine’s Day.
Lynne Oulman (Petition URL directly below.  Please help push the number to 10,000!)
1a) From Dres - Environmental Action
2a) From John via Tom – WORC
“Living With Oil & Gas”
3a) From PSR
“Join us in telling the nation's governors: It's time to proceed with the Clean Power Plan. …”
4a) From Brandy – Climate Truth  (OMG – hard to believe..-L)
“…To see how we’re keeping climate in the election conversation,watch Miami resident and Cuban refugee Maribel Balbin confront Senator Rubio about the threat that climate change poses to their shared community. (Spoiler: he’s not interested.) …”
5a) From MEIC
Contact the Montana Public Service Commission TODAY and ask them not to approve MDU’s proposed rate increase to fund 1958 vintage coal units like the Lewis and Clark Station. Instead, the PSC should encourage the utility to invest that money in new, affordable renewable energy resources. …”
6a) From Alex – Forest Ethics
“…-- several of dirty energy’s best friends in the State Senate want to make it harder for you to weigh in by proposing two measures that would stifle your voice: SB 6224 & SB 6527. â€¨â€¨You have the right to be heard. Contact your State Senator and ask them to stand up for the people of Washington State and vote against these measures (this page is from our friends at Stand Up to Oil). …”
7a) From Cecile – Environment WA Solar Organizer
“…State legislators are considering a bill to expand and extend the WA State Renewable Cost Recovery Incentive Program. This programas has effectively encouraged thousands of Washington State residents and businesses to invest in and install solar in their neighborhoods. 

If legislators don’t act, this program expires in 2020, and is already hitting caps that are undermining the continued growth of solar in WA.

Tell your legislators to support clean renewable energy, and to pass the renewable energy incentive bill (HB 2346). …”
8a) From Lynne -  Please Join Wild Earth Guardians
9a) From David - Oil Change
“…Right now, communities across Iowa are in a pitched battle against the fossil fuel industry. At stake is ANOTHER massive oil pipeline cutting across the heartland of the United States. It’s called the ‘Dakota Access’ pipeline and, if built, would further incentivize decades of Bakken shale oil development. …”
10a) From Matt Petryni – RE Sources – (interesting twist…-L)
1b) From Tom:
“UPDATE: 'End of an Era': Arch joins list of nearly 50 coal bankruptcies since 2012”
2b) From Truthout
3b) From Emily – EDF
4b) From Sightline Daily
5b) From Waterkeeper Alliance
6b) From DeSmog Canada
7b) From Matt P – RE Sources
8b) Lynne’s Disclaimer
I am a citizen with no obligation to any particular group. I started the petition July 11, 2011, when Gregoire was Washington’s governor (hence her name is listed). All the listed recipients have received their copies. Every now and then, I print a hardcopy to share with various politicians and influential individuals. Recently I gave a hardcopy to now WA Governor Inslee.
My emails happen when information hits a critical mass, or when an action/event is imminent. Sometimes information comes to me with little time to spare. I do my best to be accurate and try to send out responsible information.  At times, events get changed, or the internet connection gets hung up, but I try to stay on top of problems. I welcome your input and hope you find this list a way to stay connected and informed. If the emails get to be burdensome, you may unsubscribe following the link at the bottom of the petition email.If your name gets dropped by accident, simply re-sign the petition. The SignOn system eliminates duplicate signatures. SignOn manages the list, so I have no power to add or subtract a name. I may not fund raise, and the system is unable to accommodate attachments, pdf-s, or pictures.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Don't let them take away your voice! We need State EPA and informed Energy Site Evaluation

via The Columbian
A message from our friends at Stand Up To Oil. 
Please take action and call your Senator.
You have a right to be heard.
Just last month, nearly 2,000 people attended three public hearings, and a record-setting 290,000 public comments were submitted on the proposed oil-by-rail terminal in Vancouver. The public was able to speak up thanks to important laws and rules the ensure your voice can be heard!

After this remarkable turnout several leaders in the State Senate are trying to make it harder for the public to participate in decision making by advancing two measures that would stifle people’s voices. 

We cannot stand by and let that happen. Contact your Senator now and ask them to oppose SB 6224 and SB 6527.
The public has a right to be heard when it comes to the impacts of large energy projects. From coal export terminal proposals to oil-by-rail terminals, we have witnessed the massive outpouring of opposition by tens of thousands because Washington State has instilled and embraced the public input process.

Here’s some more details:
  • SB 6224 forces the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC) to make recommendations on an energy project, such as a nuclear facility or an oil-by-rail terminal, in half the time allowed today. A recommendation must be made even if EFSECdoes not have all of the information and public input required to make a well-informed decision.
  • SB 6527 undermines one of the most important environmental laws we have – the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA).SEPA gives local communities a voice in understanding the impacts to our water, air, land, and transportation systems from a significant project.
In light of this overwhelming public response, proponents of the proposed fossil fuel terminals and other energy projects are pushing to cut corners and make it harder for the public to weigh in.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Bad News, for Coal & Crude

Federal Coal Sales Moratorium Shakes Industry Stronghold

GILLETTE, Wyo. — Feb 1, 2016, 9:43 AM ET  
Signs of economic troubles first appeared a few years ago, when drilling for natural gas trapped in water-saturated coal seams went bust. Thousands of wells were idled as companies shifted focus to fracking for gas in Texas and the Northeast.Then last year, mining company Alpha Natural Resources filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Industry giant Arch Coal Inc. followed in early January. Each company has two major mines in Wyoming. Arch's Black Thunder mine ranks among the largest in the world.
Less than a week after the Arch bankruptcy came the Obama administration moratorium on new coal lease sales.
"All these rules and regulations just make it harder to conduct business," said Susan Doop, owner of a local alternative therapy business. "Everything he (Obama) does to make it more costly to do business makes it harder. People are losing their jobs."
Doop and her husband, Marlin, who owns an auto body shop, already are seeing the changes. He just spent three weeks focused exclusively on repairing a Ford Super Duty pickup truck from a coal mine that had a crushed cab and bent frame.
A $15,000 check he got from Arch the same week the company filed for bankruptcy bounced. He said he can't afford health insurance and was going to use the money to pay for another round of treatments for advanced liver and colon cancer.

Big executive bonuses; shafting workers and the environment; and more. Via Sightline

In case you somehow missed the news, Arch Coal, North America’s second largest coal company, filed for bankruptcy a few weeks back. Arch’s management hopes to use bankruptcy protection to shed $4.5 billion in debt—money that Arch borrowed from investors near the peak of the coal market, but that the company can’t pay back now that coal prices have tumbled.
To anyone paying attention, Arch’s insolvency came as no surprise. The company hadmissed a bond interest payment in mid-December after unsuccessful negotiations with creditors. Besides, coal industry bankruptcies are a dime a dozen at this point: Alpha Natural Resources, the #4 coal company in the US, declared bankruptcy in August; Walter Energy declared itself insolvent back in July; and Patriot Coal filed for Chapter 11 protection in October, its second filing since 2012. All told, nearly 50 US coal mining companies have filed for bankruptcy protection since the beginning of 2012.
Arch’s bankruptcy obviously highlights the dire state of the industry’s finances. But it also raises important questions about public policy, fiscal responsibility, and the fate of the coal industry itself. 

Here are the top five stories that I’m going to keep my eye on as the Arch Coal bankruptcy unfolds. Read the article here 

As Coal topples, Crude also falters

Photo by Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

The Syncrude oil sands extraction facility near the town of Fort McMurray in northern Alberta.

Once Unstoppable, Tar Sands
Now Battered from All Sides

Canada’s tar sands industry is in crisis as oil prices plummet, pipeline projects are killed, and new governments in Alberta and Ottawa vow less reliance on this highly polluting energy source. Is this the beginning of the end for the tar sands juggernaut?
by Ed Struzik via Environment360
In the summer of 2014, when oil was selling for $114 per barrel, Alberta’s tar sands industry was still confidently standing by earlier predictions that it would nearly triple production by 2035. Companies such as Suncor, Statoil, Syncrude, Royal Dutch Shell, and Imperial Oil Ltd. were investing hundreds of billions of dollars in new projects to mine the thick, highly polluting bitumen.
Eyeing this oil boom, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he was certain that the Keystone XL pipeline — “a no-brainer” in his words — would be built, with or without President Barack Obama’s approval. Keystone, which would carry tar sands crude from Alberta to refineries along the Gulf of Mexico, was critical if bitumen from new tar sands projects was going to find a way to market.
What a difference 18 months makes. The price of oil today has plummeted to around $30 a barrel, well below the break-even point for tar sands producers, and the value of the Canadian dollar has fallen sharply. President Obama killed the Keystone XL project in November, and staunch opposition has so far halted efforts to build pipelines that would carry tar sands crude to Canada’s Pacific and Atlantic coasts.
The industry is suddenly weathering a perfect storm that analysts say has significantly altered its prospects.

Could Low Oil Prices Help Usher in a New Era?
Mark Trahant 1/27/16 Via Indian Country Today

Here is the problem: If the pipeline is built and the train system is upgraded there will be too much transportation capacity at current oil prices. So the railroad companies will have to seek out new customers. Or, as Sightline said, while “the projects are largely designed to transport and handle light shale oil from the Bakken oil formation in North Dakota … the infrastructure could also be used to export heavy Canadian oil.”
The idea of how much capacity — especially given the price of oil — is the wild card in any transportation scheme. Many projects were designed when oil prices were higher than $75 a barrel instead of around $30. Oil is a commodity and traded on international markets. That means it’s subject to the up and down of supply and demand. Currently there is far more oil supply than demand. A report by the International Energy Agency says last year “saw one of the highest volume increases in global oil demand this century, we have long believed that this could not be repeated in 2016. But, with crude oil prices plunging below $30/bbl, must we expect some boost to the rate of growth in 2016? Unfortunately, the New Year has been awash with pessimism about economic growth.”
And that means less economic growth — and less oil consumption. The IEA says that when Iran is fully online selling oil, and if other oil exporting countries maintain current production levels, the demand could exceed 1.5 million barrels a day and “unless something changes, the oil market could drown in over-supply.” So yes prices could go lower.