Tag Archives: Bakken Shale

Yes, they are “Bomb Trains.” Even more importantly, they are “Global Destruction Trains”

Our Earth Day refocus on the larger issues

By Roger Straw, Editor, The Benicia Independent, April 22, 2015
tarsands_wis-sierra-club
This Sierra Club before-and-after photo of tar sands strip mining appeared with my 6/14/13 opinion in the Benicia Herald, “Do Benicians want tar-sands oil brought here?” – Roger Straw

My initial alarm over Valero’s proposal to build a crude-by-rail offloading facility here in my hometown came almost two years ago now, when I learned of the destruction in Alberta Canada caused by the mining and processing of tar sands.   It was plain to me that a decision to permit Valero Crude By Rail here, thousands of miles from those dirty bitumen mines, would position my hometown as a valued partner in the world’s most toxic oil extraction and transport operation.  I joined with others here in Benicia to organize so that we would have no part in that dirty game.

Lac-Mégantic, Quebec
Lac-Mégantic, Quebec

For me and for many along the rails in the U.S., our focus shifted gradually – or in some cases suddenly – to public safety issues surrounding Bakken shale oil train derailments and the resultant catastrophic explosions and fireballs.

Lately, I’m thinking that even though these safety concerns will not go away with the eventual passage of a few new laws and long-delayed safety regulations, we all might want to consider renewing and strengthening our original focus.

What we decide here along the tracks and in refinery towns has EVERYTHING to do with the situation in Alberta and the Upper Midwest where tar sands bitumen and shale oil is being produced.  People there, the land there, the wildlife, the air and water … these are the first and lasting victims of our thirst for cheap oil.

We hear so much about the oil boom’s contribution to “energy independence.”   Well, let’s focus on REAL energy independence: leave the oil in the ground, tax carbon, invest in clean energy.

The Benicia Independent has always been concerned with climate change, the air we breathe and the water and land that sustains life.  But our focus, like that of much of the media, has been primarily on the oil train derailments that have understandably shocked and frightened the public since July, 2013.  As editor and publisher, I’m serving notice this Earth Day, that the Benicia Independent is taking on a renewed commitment to cover the ongoing environmental damage and the increased risks of pollution if we permit oil trains.

You will begin to see more stories about proposed carbon taxes, polar ice, the destruction of land and lives in Alberta and the Upper Midwest and more.

Note that I fully expect my work to be dominated from time to time by the NEXT BIG EXPLOSION, and the NEXT ONE….  As long as oil trains rumble through our neighborhoods, city centers, mountains and wetlands and into our refinery industrial centers, we WILL see derailments.  And no matter the new federal safety rules and the efforts of the rail and oil industries, NOTHING can prevent the massive weight of a moving chain of these monstrous tank cars from coming off the tracks occasionally, accordion jackknifing, flipping and puncturing, setting off horrific explosions, and endangering human life and our natural world.  It will happen, and I will cover the news.

But for every day that you DON’T see a news report with fiery skies and black billowing smoke, please understand that the not-so-silent killer strip-mines and the fracking and horizontal drilling continue, too often unreported.  Far from most of us, but up close and real to the people who live there, our earth is groaning under the weight of our permitting decisions and our corporate desire for continued crude-oil profitability.

Here in Benicia, we will say NO to crude by rail.  It’s a tangible way to have a small say in the welfare of our town, our state, our nation and our beautiful planet earth.

Leave the oil in the ground.  Tax carbon.  Invest in clean energy.


MORE ON TAR SANDS …

Sightline Daily

Understanding the North American Tar Sands
Jan 14, 2015 Last year, Portland’s KBOO Community Radio profiled what is “the largest industrial project on Earth”: the North American tar sands. Typically, one hears of the “Canadian tar sands,” as if the issue is one that lives only north of the US national border and need not concern American citizens. But reporter Barbara Bernstein’s documentary, “Fighting Goliath,” revealed an alarming and very real threat…

Oil Change International

Tar Sands
Tar sands are found underneath Canada’s great boreal forest and consist of heavy crude oil trapped in a mixture of sand and clay. To extract oil from tar sands, companies must destroy fragile forest ecosystems and then use a very energy-intensive upgrading and refining process to turn that sludge into transportation fuel….

Natural Resources Defense Council

Stop Dirty Fuels : Tar Sands
In Canada, the oil industry is transforming one of the world’s last remaining intact ecosystems into America’s gas tank….

Forest Ethics

Canada’s tar sands is one of the largest industrial projects on the planet, and its environmental footprint is growing by the second. At a time when the world needs to transition to cleaner energy, the tar sands is the poster child of what we should not be doing. It’s time to put a healthy environment above corporate profit and the endless drive for more oil….

[More Google links on tar sands …]

Tar Sands Basics

ostseis.anl.gov/guide/tarsands/
Argonne National Laboratory
Tar sands (also referred to as oil sands) are a combination of clay,
sand, water, and bitumen, a heavy black viscous oil. Tar sands can
be mined and processed to extract the oil-rich bitumen, which is
then refined into oil.

Oil sands – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oil_sands
Oil sand is either loose sand or partially consolidated sandstone
containing a naturally occurring mixture of sand, clay, and water,
saturated with a dense and extremely viscous form of petroleum
technically referred to as bitumen  (or colloquially tar due to its
similar appearance, odour, and colour).

Stop Dirty Fuels: Tar Sands

www.nrdc.org/…/dirtyfuels_tar.asp

Extracting tar sands, and turning bitumen into crude oil, uses vast amounts of energy and water, and causes significant air and water pollution, and three times …

What are the Tar Sands? | Rainforest Action Network

www.ran.org/what-are-tarsands
Rainforest Action Network
The Keystone XL pipeline is a disastrous project of tar sands oil
companies that will do serious damage to our country and
climate.  If built, the spill prone …

Canada’s oil sands: The steam from below | The Economist

www.economist.com/…/21615488-new-technologies-are-…
The Economist
Sep 6, 2014 – ONE of the bleakest scenes of man-made
destruction is the strip mining of oil sands in the forests of
Alberta, Canada. The sand is permeated …

Tar sands – Friends of the Earth

www.foe.org/projects/climate-and-energy/tarsands

Tar sands are found underneath Canada’s great boreal forest and consist of heavy crude oil trapped in a mixture of sand and clay. To extract oil from tar sands, …

Canada’s tar sands: Muck and brass | The Economist

www.economist.com/node/17959688‎ – The Economist

But golf courses and suburban housing make the place liveable, and some locals have grown attached to Alberta’s tar sands and Fort McMurray, the town at the centre of them. “I’d like …

Unconventional Crude – The New Yorker

www.newyorker.com/magazine/…/unconventional-crud…‎ – The New Yorker

The tar sands begin near the border of Saskatchewan, around the latitude of Edmonton, and extend, in three major deposits, north and west almost to British Columbia. All in all, they …

How Much Will Tar Sands Oil Add to Global Warming?

www.scientificamerican.com/…/tarsands-and-keyston…‎  – Scientific American

The Opposite of Mining: Tar Sands Steam Extraction Lessens Footprint, but Environmental Costs Remain · Oil Sands Raise Levels of Cancer-Causing Compounds in Regional Waters.

What are Oil Sands? – Canadian Association of Petroleum …

www.capp.ca/…oil…/oilsa

Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers

Oil sands are a mixture of sand, water, clay and bitumen. They are found in several locations around the globe including Venezuela, USA, Russia and Canada.

No Tar Sands | UK Tar Sands Network | What are tar sands?

www.no-tarsands.org/what-are-the-tarsands/

Canada’s tar sands are the biggest energy project in the world,
currently producing 1.9 million barrels of oil a day. Largely located
in Alberta, the tar sands …

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    New York Times op ed video: A Danger on Rails

    Repost from The New York Times
    [Editor:  This is another good locally-based video, this time focusing on crude-by-rail in the Albany NY region.  We have seen similar professional quality videos featuring the Pacific Northwest (by Columbia Riverkeeper and VICE News) and an Inside Climate News / Weather Films documentary, “Boom” that is broad in scope, focusing in on a bridge in Alabama.  We need someone to create a prime time video documenting the looming threat of increasing oil trains here in our beautiful California, focusing not only on safety concerns, but also on the part our corporate decisions will play – or won’t play – in the desolation of land in Alberta Canada and the Upper Midwest and the massive release of toxic fossil fuel chemicals that contribute to climate change.  – RS]

    ‘A Danger on Rails’

    This short documentary warns about the dangers posed by trains that transport explosive oil across North America.

    Op-Docs, by Jon Bowermaster, April 21, 2015 

     

    In recent years, small towns across the United States have begun hosting an increasingly common phenomenon: long trains, made up of 100-plus black cylindrical cars, rolling slowly past our hospitals, schools and homes.

    Few who see them know what they carry: highly flammable crude oil from the shale fields around North Dakota.

    I live in the Hudson Valley and see these trains daily; Albany is a major hub, and trains traveling south down the Hudson River toward mid-Atlantic refineries hug its shores. Every day on the East Coast, as many as 400,000 barrels of this explosive mixture travel through our backyards over shaky bridges, highways and overpasses.

    As this Op-Doc video shows, there are reasons to be very concerned about this increased train traffic, which is directly related to the boom in oil and gas drilling in the Midwest. These trains can be very dangerous, prompting some to call them “bomb trains.” There have already been horrific railway accidents in North America caused when these trains go off the tracks, some of them fatal.

    No one wants the responsibility, or expense, of improving the safety of the cars, fuel, tracks or related infrastructure that would reduce the threat. While new regulations are expected in May from the United States Department of Transportation, environmentalists are not hopeful for much change — given the powerful lobbying efforts of the oil and rail industries.

    Already this year there have been four serious derailments, resulting in spills, explosions and fires. Safety and Homeland Security officials have mentioned these “rolling bombs” as potential terrorist weapons. And the Department of Transportation has estimated that at this rate there will be 15 major accidents in the United States this year alone. I hope we will do our best to prevent them.


    Jon Bowermaster’s most recent documentaries include “Antarctica 3D, On the Edge” and “Dear Governor Cuomo: New Yorkers Against Fracking in One Voice.’’ He is a 30-year resident of the Hudson Valley.
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      UPDATE: Latest on West Virginia derailment, explosion

      Two recent stories in the media:

      1.  WEST VIRGINIA METRO NEWS: No change for CSX, Bakkan oil will continue to roll through area where derailment took place
      By Chris Lawrence, February 27, 2015 at 2:47PM

      MOUNT CARBON, W.Va. — There will be another CSX train carrying Bakkan oil going through eastern Kanawha and Fayette counties soon now that the track has been repaired following the Feb. 19 derailment of an oil train near Mount Carbon.

      “It’s part of the freight that goes over that line,” CSX Spokesman Gary Sease told MetroNews Friday. “Those shipments, along with all the other freight we haul, have resumed.”

      The rebuilt line, just a few miles from Montgomery, reopened Thursday afternoon following a week long cleanup.  [CONTINUED]


      2.  PBS NEWSHOUR: Fiery train wrecks put pressure on safety standards for oil transport
      February 27, 2015 – 8:43am
      A combination photo shows a sequence of an explosion erupting from a CSX Corp train derailment in Mount Carbon, West Virginia pictured across the Kanawha River in Boomer, West Virginia February 16, 2015. Photo by Steve Keenan/Reuters

      WASHINGTON — Fiery wrecks of trains hauling crude oil have intensified pressure on the Obama administration to approve tougher standards for railroads and tank cars despite industry complaints that it could cost billions and slow freight deliveries.

      On Feb. 5, the Transportation Department sent the White House draft rules that would require oil trains to use stronger tank cars and make other safety improvements.

      Nine days later a 100-car train hauling crude oil and petroleum distillates derailed and caught fire in a remote part of Ontario, Canada. Less than 48 hours later, a 109-car oil train derailed and caught fire in West Virginia, leaking oil into a Kanawha River tributary and burning a house to its foundation. As the fire spread across 19 of the cars, a nearby resident said the explosions sounded like an “atomic bomb.” Both fires burned for nearly a week.  [CONTINUED]


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        Wall Street Journal: Big Oil Feels the Need to Get Smaller

        Repost from The Wall Street Journal

        Big Oil Feels the Need to Get Smaller

        Exxon, Shell, Chevron Pare Back as Rising Production Costs Squeeze Earnings
        By Daniel Gilbert and Justin Scheck, Nov. 2, 2014
        Shell_Ft.McMurrayAlberta_Bbrg500
        Extracting oil from Western Canada’s oil sands, such as at this Shell facility near Fort McMurray, Alberta, is a particularly expensive proposition. Bloomberg News

        As crude prices tumble, big oil companies are confronting what once would have been heresy: They need to shrink.

        Even before U.S. oil prices began their summer drop toward $80 a barrel, the three biggest Western oil companies had lower profit margins than a decade ago, when they sold oil and gas for half the price, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis.

        Despite collectively earning $18.9 billion in the third quarter, the three companies— Exxon Mobil Corp. , Royal Dutch Shell PLC and Chevron Corp. —are now shelving expansion plans and shedding operations with particularly tight profit margins.

        The reason for the shift lies in the rising cost of extracting oil and gas. Exxon, Chevron, Shell, as well as BP PLC, each make less money tapping fuels than they did 10 years ago. Combined, the four companies averaged a 26% profit margin on their oil and gas sales in the past 12 months, compared with 35% a decade ago, according to the analysis.

        Shell last week reported that its oil-and-gas production was lower than it was a decade ago and warned it is likely to keep falling for the next two years. Exxon’s output sank to a five-year low after the company disposed of less-profitable barrels in the Middle East. U.S.-based Chevron, for which production has been flat for the past year, is delaying major investments because of cost concerns.

        BP has pared back the most sharply, selling $40 billion in assets since 2010, largely to pay for legal and cleanup costs stemming from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that year.

        SqueezePlaysWSJ.500

        To be sure, the companies, at least eventually, aim to pump more oil and gas. Exxon and Chevron last week reaffirmed plans to boost output by 2017.

        “If we went back a decade ago, the thought of curtailing spending because crude was $80 a barrel would blow people’s minds,” said Dan Pickering, co-president of investment bank Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. “The inherent profitability of the business has come down.”

        It isn’t only major oil companies that are pulling back. Oil companies world-wide have canceled or delayed more than $200 billion in projects since the start of last year, according to an estimate by research firm Sanford C. Bernstein.

        In the past, the priority for big oil companies was to find and develop new oil and gas fields as fast as possible, partly to replace exhausted reserves and partly to show investors that the companies still could grow.

        But the companies’ sheer size has meant that only huge, complex—and expensive—projects are big enough to make a difference to the companies’ reserves and revenues.

        As a result, Exxon, Shell and Chevron have chased large energy deposits from the oil sands of Western Canada to the frigid Central Asian steppes. They also are drilling to greater depths in the Gulf of Mexico and building plants to liquefy natural gas on a remote Australian island. The three companies shelled out a combined $500 billion between 2009 and last year. They also spend three times more per barrel than smaller rivals that focus on U.S. shale, which is easier to extract.

        The production from some of the largest endeavors has yet to materialize. While investment on projects to tap oil and gas rose by 80% from 2007 to 2013 for the six biggest oil companies, according to JBC Energy Markets, their collective oil and gas output fell 6.5%.

        Several major ventures are scheduled to begin operations within a year, however, which some analysts have said could improve cash flow and earnings.

        For decades, the oil industry relied on what Shell Chief Financial Officer Simon Henry calls its “colonial past” to gain access to low-cost, high-volume oil reserves in places such as the Middle East. In the 1970s, though, governments began driving harder bargains with companies.

        Oil companies still kept trying to produce more oil, however. In the late 1990s, “it would have been unacceptable to say the production will go down,” Mr. Henry said.

        Oil companies were trying to appease investors by promising to boost production and cut investment.

        “We promised everything,” Mr. Henry said. Now, “those chickens did come home to roost.”

        Shell has “about a third of our balance sheet in these assets making a return of 0%,” Shell Chief Executive Ben van Beurden said in a recent interview. Shell projects should have a profit margin of at least 10%, he said. “If that means a significantly smaller business, then I’m prepared to do that.”

        Shell late last year canceled a $20 billion project to convert natural gas to diesel in Louisiana and this year halted a Saudi gas project where the company had spent millions of dollars.

        The Anglo-Dutch company also has dialed back on shale drilling in the U.S. and Canada and abandoned its production targets.

        U.S.-based Exxon earlier this year allowed a license to expire in Abu Dhabi, where the company had pumped oil for 75 years, and sold a stake in an oil field in southern Iraq because they didn’t offer sufficiently high returns.

        Exxon is investing “not for the sake of growing volume but for the sake of capturing value,” Jeff Woodbury, the head of investor relations, said Friday.

        Even Chevron, which said it planned to increase output by 2017, has lowered its projections. The company has postponed plans to develop a large gas field in the U.K. to help bring down costs. The company also recently delayed an offshore drilling project in Indonesia.

        The re-evaluation has also come because the companies have been spending more than the cash they bring in. In nine of the past 10 quarters, Exxon, for example, has spent more on dividends, share buybacks and capital and exploration costs than it has generated from operations and by selling assets.

        Though refining operations have cushioned the blow of lower oil prices, the companies indicated that they might take on more debt if crude gets even cheaper. U.S. crude closed Friday at $80.54 a barrel.

        Chevron finance chief Patricia Yarrington said the company planned to move forward with its marquee projects and is willing to draw on its $14.2 billion in cash to pay dividends and repurchase shares.

        “We are not bothered in a temporary sense,” she said. “We obviously can’t do that for a long period of time.”

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