TELL THE SENATE AND PRESIDENT TO PROTECT THE OIL EXPORT BAN
America’s decades-old crude oil export ban is under urgent threat of repeal through backroom dealing and an imminent vote on a congressional spending bill. The ban is a critical safeguard against climate change and the damages and risks of fracking.
Lifting the ban would massively boost oil production at a time when the science demands that we must leave at least 80 percent of remaining fossil fuels in the ground. The combustion of the additional oil that would be produced is estimated to generate more than515 million metric tons of carbon pollution per year — the equivalent annual greenhouse gas emissions of 135 coal-fired power plants or more than 100 million passenger cars.
If this horrendous bill passes, communities across America will face more pollution, illness and disruption from drilling and fracking. We can’t afford to lift the crude oil export ban just to contribute to Big Oil’s windfall profits.
Phone calls to your senators and the White House are urgently needed. Here are some talking points. Type in your ZIP code below to get your senators’ numbers, then let us know you called.
Hi, my name is ______, and I live in ______. I’m calling to urge you to vote NO on the omnibus bill that repeals the crude oil export ban. Lifting the ban would increase oil production and damage from fracking and other dangerous drilling while undercutting progress fighting climate change. It will increase Big Oil’s profits at our expense. No deal could justify lifting the 40-year-old crude oil export ban.
Please — vote against any bill that lifts the crude oil export ban or has other sneak attacks on our environment and democracy.
Can you tell me how Senator X plans to vote? Thank you.
For the White House:
Hi, my name is ______, and I live in ______. I’m calling to urge you to veto the omnibus bill that repeals the crude oil export ban. Lifting the ban would increase oil production and damage from fracking and other dangerous drilling while undercutting progress fighting climate change. It will increase Big Oil’s profits at our expense. No deal could justify lifting the 40-year-old crude oil export ban.
Please veto any bill that lifts the crude oil export ban or has other sneak attacks on our environment and democracy.
A group of 195 nations reached a landmark climate agreement on Saturday. Here is what it means for the planet, business, politics and other areas.
The planet is under threat from human emissions, and the Paris climate deal is, at best, a first step toward fixing the problem. Ice sheets are starting to melt, coastlines are flooding from rising seas, and some types of extreme weather are growing worse. Yet some of the consequences of an overheated planet might be avoided, or at least slowed, if the climate deal succeeds in reducing emissions. At the least, by requiring regular reviews, the deal lays a foundation for stronger action in the future. – JUSTIN GILLIS
Strange bedfellows emerged during the Paris negotiations, with industrial powerhouses such as the European Union joining with Pacific island nations and former adversaries, like China and the United States, swapping brinksmanship for bonds over joint action to cut fossil fuel emissions. The pact could leave more geopolitical shifts in its wake. It could further move the energy balance of power away from the developing world toward the industrialized countries, boost the economy in technology economies like the United States and Japan as they develop solutions for the generation and distribution of renewable energy, and create economic stars out of relatively poor countries with an abundance of sun and wind for renewable energy. On the other hand, major oil producers like Russia and Saudi Arabia, already weakened by the slide in the price of oil, could shed some power. – MELISSA EDDY
The Paris accord is a triumph for President Obama and Secretary of
State John Kerry, who both lobbied hard for it, but it has outraged
many Republicans who are skeptical of the extent of human-caused
climate change and believe the deal favors environmental ideology over economic reality. The environment has not typically played a major role in voters’ choices, and the issue will most likely be overshadowed in the current election cycle by fears of terrorism, though the drought in California and severe weather in many parts of the country have raised concerns for many Americans. The Republican-controlled Congress can do little to stop the deal, which is not considered a treaty under United States law, though Congress would need to sign off on any new money to help other countries adapt to climate change — an important aspect of the American commitment to the accord. – SEWELL CHAN
The ambitious targets included in Saturday’s deal for limiting the rise in global temperatures may help companies involved in renewable energy and energy efficiency by expanding their markets. Setting a high bar may also make the energy industry attractive for innovators and venture capitalists, increasing the chances of sweeping shifts in what has been a conservative business. The agreement may make life difficult for some of the incumbent companies like electric utilities and coal producers, whose product emits high levels of carbon dioxide. – STANLEY REED
The average American most likely will not feel an immediate effect from the Paris deal. There will be greater emphasis on more efficient electrical products, homes and vehicles. Jobs could be created through the construction of a new energy infrastructure, the maintenance of solar fields and the development of new transportation systems that move away from dependence on the gas pump, as Secretary of State John Kerry has said. Or, as Republicans warn, Americans could see a loss in jobs and American economic competitiveness, as developing economies with less stringent targets are allowed to grow at American’s expense. The deal’s intended long-term effect: avoiding the catastrophic effects of climate change and leaving behind a healthier planet. – MELISSA EDDY
U.S. Not Prepared for Tar Sands Oil Spills, National Study Finds
By Codi Kozacek, Circle of Blue, 10 December, 2015 16:07
Report urges new regulations, research, and technology to respond to spills of diluted bitumen.
Spills of heavy crude oil from western Canada’s tar sands are more difficult to clean up than other types of conventional oil, particularly if the spill occurs in water, a new study by a high-level committee of experts found. Moreover, current regulations governing emergency response plans for oil spills in the United States are inadequate to address spills of tar sands oil.
The study by the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine confirmed what scientists, emergency responders, and conservationists knew anecdotally from a major oil spill that contaminated Michigan’s Kalamazoo River in 2010 and another spill in Mayflower, Arkansas in 2013. Tar sands crude, called diluted bitumen, becomes denser and stickier than other types of oil after it spills from a pipeline, sinking to the bottom of rivers, lakes, and estuaries and coating vegetation instead of floating on top of the water.
“[Diluted bitumen] weathers to a denser material, and it’s stickier, and that’s a problem. It’s a distinct problem that makes it different from other crude.”
–Diane McKnight, Chair Committee on the Effects of Diluted Bitumen on the Environment
“The long-term risk associated with the weathered bitumen is the potential for that [oil] becoming submerged and sinking into water bodies where it gets into the sediments,” Diane McKnight, chair of the committee that produced the study and a professor of engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder, told Circle of Blue. “And then those sediments can become resuspended and move further downstream and have consequences not only at the ecosystem level but also in terms of water supply.”
“It weathers to a denser material, and it’s stickier, and that’s a problem. It’s a distinct problem that makes it different from other crude.” McKnight added. Weathering is what happens after oil is spilled and exposed to sunlight, water, and other elements. In order to flow through pipelines, tar sands crude oil is mixed with lighter oils, which evaporate during the weathering process. In a matter of days, what is left of the diluted bitumen can sink.
The study’s findings come amid an expansion in unconventional fuels development and transport in North America. Over the past decade, Canada became the world’s fifth largest crude oil producer by developing the Alberta tar sands. U.S. imports of Canadian crude, much of it from tar sands, increased 58 percent over the past decade, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Though oil prices are at a seven-year low, and market turbulence is expected to persist for several more years, tar sands developers are working to double the current tar sands oil production — around 2.2 million barrels per day — by 2030. Pipelines to transport all of the new oil are expanding too, producing a greater risk of spills.
Whether tar sands producers achieve that level of oil supply is not assured. Public pressure is mounting in Canada and the United States to rein in tar sands development due to considerable environmental damage and heavy carbon emissions. U.S. President Barack Obama last month scrapped the Keystone XL pipeline, an 800,000-barrel-per-day project to move crude oil from Canada’s tar sands to Gulf of Mexico refineries. An international movement to divest from fossil fuels and a legally binding global deal to cut carbon emissions –if it is signed in Paris– could curb demand for tar sands oil.
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine study adds new data to arguments made by critics of tar sands development.
“The study really confirms a lot of the information that has been out there, there are no real surprises,” Jim Murphy, senior counsel for the National Wildlife Federation, told Circle of Blue. “You don’t want these things to be affirmed because it’s bad news for communities. But the good part about a study like this is hopefully it will prompt some action. Some folks were hiding behind the lack of a study like this, saying we don’t really know. Those excuses have gone away.”
“The chief takeaway is that this is a different oil, it presents different challenges, and responders and regulators simply don’t have the structures in place to deal with the challenges,” he added.
Nonetheless, energy companies are pursuing pipeline expansions, most notably in the Midwest and Great Lakes regions. Enbridge, Canada’s largest transporter of crude oil, operates a 3,000-kilometer (1,900-mile) pipeline network, known as the Lakehead System, that carries crude oil from Canada to refineries on the Great Lakes. The Lakehead system, in concert with Enbridge’s Canadian main line, is capable of transporting 2.62 million barrels of oil per day. The pipeline responsible for the 2010 oil spill in Kalamazoo was part of the Lakehead system. A link in the Lakehead system ruptured in 2010 and spilled more than 3 million liters (843,000 gallons) of tar sands oil into southern Michigan’s Kalamazoo River. It was the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history and its effects still linger because of oil that sank and is embedded in the river’s sediments.
“The chief takeaway is that this is a different oil, it presents different challenges, and responders and regulators simply don’t have the structures in place to deal with the challenges.”
–Jim Murphy, Senior Counsel
National Wildlife Federation
Enbridge is currently pursuing upgrades to its Alberta Clipper pipeline, which runs through Minnesota and Wisconsin, in order to boost the line’s capacity to 800,000 barrels per day from 450,000 barrels per day. A second project aims to increase the capacity of Line 61, a pipeline that runs from Wisconsin to Illinois, from 560,000 barrels per day to 1.2 million barrels per day. Opposition to the company’s operation of a pipeline that runs beneath the Straits of Mackinac, where Lake Michigan and Lake Huron join, has been especially fierce, though the line does not currently carry tar sands oil.
“I think at the very least we should be saying no to more tar sands through the [Great Lakes] region until we get a firm handle on how to deal with the unique challenges that tar sands spills present,” Murphy said. “We should also be taking a hard look, as the president did with the Keystone XL decision, about the other negative impacts of more tar sands oil, like the consequences in Alberta with the habitat destruction there, and also the higher carbon pollution content of the fuel.”
The National Academies study concluded that the characteristics of diluted bitumen are “highly problematic for spill response because 1) there are few effective techniques for detection, containment, and recovery of oil that is submerged in the water column, and 2) available techniques for responding to oil that has sunken to the bottom have variable effectiveness depending on the spill conditions.”
“Broadly, regulations and agency practices do not take the unique properties of diluted bitumen into account, nor do they encourage effective planning for spills of diluted bitumen,” it continued.
The study’s authors made a series of recommendations to help reduce the damage from future tar sands spills, including:
Update regulations that would require pipeline operators to identify and provide safety sheets for each crude oil transported by the pipeline, catalogue the areas and water bodies that would be most sensitive to a diluted bitumen spill, describe how they would detect and recover sunken oil, provide samples and information about the type of oil spilled to emergency officials, and publicly report the annual volumes and types of crude oil that pass through each pipeline.
Require the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), the federal agency that regulates pipelines in the United States, to review spill response plans in coordination with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Coast Guard to determine if the plans are capable of responding to diluted bitumen spills.
Develop methods to detect, contain, and recover oil that sinks to the bottom of water bodies.
Require government agencies at the federal, state, and local level to use industry-standard names for crude oils when planning spill responses.
Revise oil classifications used by the U.S. Coast Guard to indicate that diluted bitumen can sink in water.
Collect data to improve modeling of diluted bitumen oil spills.
Improve coordination between federal agencies and state and local governments when planning and practicing oil spill response exercises.
Develop a standard method for determining the adhesion –a measure of how sticky the oil is–of diluted bitumen in the event of a spill.
After the study’s release, PHMSA said it would develop a bulletin advising pipeline operators about the recommendations and urge voluntary improvements to their spill response plans. The agency also plans to hold a workshop next spring to hear public input on how to implement the recommendations, coordinate with other federal organizations to “advance the recommendations”, and work with industry representatives to improve spill response planning.
“We appreciate the work the National Academy of Sciences has done over the last few years in analyzing the risks of transporting diluted bitumen, including its effects on transmission pipelines, the environment and oil spill response activities,” Artealia Gilliard, PHMSA spokesperson and director for governmental, international and public affairs, said in a statement. “All pipelines transporting crude oil or any other hazardous liquid are required to meet strict federal safety regulations that work to prevent pipeline failures and to mitigate the consequences of pipeline failures when they occur.”
Codi Yeager-Kozacek is a news correspondent for Circle of Blue based out of Hawaii. She co-writes The Stream, Circle of Blue’s daily digest of international water news trends. Her interests include food security, ecology and the Great Lakes.