Tag Archives: Keystone XL

U.S. Government Just Approved an Enormous Oil Pipeline

Repost from Mother Jones

The Government Quietly Just Approved This Enormous Oil Pipeline

Four reasons why people are outraged.

By Alexander Sammon, Aug. 12, 2016 6:00 AM

ewg3D/Thinkstock

It took seven years of protests, sit-ins, letter writing, and, finally, a presidential review to prevent the Keystone XL oil pipeline from being built. Now, in a matter of months, America’s newest mega-pipeline—the Dakota Access Pipeline Project (DAPL)—has quietly received full regulatory permission to begin construction. Known also as the Bakken Pipeline, the project is slated to run 1,172 miles of 30-inch diameter pipe from North Dakota’s northwest Bakken region down to a market hub outside Patoka, Illinois, where it will join extant pipelines and travel onward to refineries and markets in the Gulf and on the East Coast. If that description gives you déjà vu, it should: The Bakken Pipeline is only seven miles shorter than Keystone’s proposed length.

The proposed route of the recently approved Bakken Pipeline - Dakota Access

The $3.78 billion project is being built by Dakota Access, LLC, a unit of the Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners. (Former Texas Gov. Rick Perrya friend of Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, sits on ETP’s board.) According to the firm, the Bakken Pipeline will transport up to 570,000 barrels of crude oil per day. Advocates have celebrated the supposed 12,000 jobs the pipeline will create in construction, while repeating calls to end American dependence on foreign oil—a platform called into question by new laws allowing US producers to export crude. The US Army Corps of Engineers gave its blessing at the end of July, clearing the final hurdle for the massive infrastructure project, which is slated to be operational by the fourth quarter of 2016.

Though the project hasn’t gotten too much national media attention, there’s been plenty of local opposition. Groups like the Bakken Pipeline Resistance Coalition, a collective of 30-plus environmentalists’ and landowners’ associations, along with Native American groups, have cried foul. Here are the four things they’re most outraged by:

How many jobs…really: According to Dakota Access’s DAPL fact sheet, the pipeline will create 8,000 to 12,000 construction jobs. An earlier draft of those figures claimed 7,263 “job-years” to be created in Iowa alone. Not so fast, says professor David Swenson, associate scientist in the Department of Economics at Iowa State University. Swenson crunched the numbers himself and came to a much more modest conclusion: 1,500 jobs total per year in Iowa for the course of construction. And given that most of these jobs are skilled, Swenson expects many of the hires will be from out of state, as Iowan contractors specializing in large-scale underground pipe-fitting and welding are scarce. The long-term forecast for job creation is even bleaker. The Des Moines Register reports that there will only be 12 to 15 permanent employees once the pipeline is completed. (DAPL has since walked back its job estimate slightly.)

Spill, baby, spill: As Sierra Club’s Michael Brune puts it, “It’s not a question if a pipeline will malfunction, but rather a question of when.” And, though they spill less often than trains do, the International Energy Agency found that pipelines spill much more in terms of volume—three times as much between 2004 and 2012. The Bakken Pipeline’s route takes it through active farmland, forests, and across the heartland’s major rivers: The Big Sioux, the Missouri, and the Mississippi, some with multiple crossings, though the US Fish and Wildlife Service claims that no “critical habitat” is endangered. It also runs through sacred Native American lands (more on this below).

Enbridge Inc., a stakeholder in the Bakken pipeline, has a speckled track record on spills. In 2010, an Enbridge pipeline spilled 1.2 million gallons of crude into the Kalamazoo River, one of the worst inland spills in American history. Because the pipeline qualifies as a utility (despite being privately owned and for-profit), the Army Corps of Engineers was able to certify it without performing an environmental impact statement, as all utilities projects qualify as “minimal impact.” These projects are subject to environmental assessments every five years.

Don’t tread on me: Private property owners, particularly in Iowa, have bristled at the Bakken Pipeline’s expropriation of land. ETP asked the Iowa Utilities Board to grant it the powers of eminent domain, the process by which a government can repossess private property for public use even if the private property owner does not voluntarily sell. The IUB, a three-person committee appointed by Republican Gov. Terry Branstad, granted ETP that right for its for-profit private pipeline, a practice that is not uncommon, in order to purchase 475 parcels from resistant landowners. This has led to numerous pending lawsuits, with the Des Moines Register reporting that the issue may make it all the way to the Iowa Supreme Court. In May 2015, ETP was embroiled in scandal after a contracted land agent, working on behalf of the Bakken Pipeline, allegedly offered an Iowan landowner a teenage prostitute in exchange for voluntary access to his property. (No charges were brought after the Iowa Department of Criminal Investigation determined that the case did not meet the legal standard for pimping, solicitation, or conspiracy.)

DisRezpect: The pipeline will cross through sacred lands and pass under the Missouri River twice. For the Standing Rock Sioux, the Missouri provides drinking water and irrigation, while its riverbanks grow innumerable plants of cultural import, including sage and buffalo berries. The tribe launched a campaign called “Rezpect Our Water” and staged a 500-mile relay race in protest, hoping to sway the Army Corps of Engineers in the permitting process. Last weekend, a group of 30 Native youth completed a three-week run from North Dakota to Washington, DC, where they delivered a petition of 160,000 signatures opposing the pipeline’s construction.

Now, even though the Corps has given the go-ahead, the tribe has not given up the fight. They recently filed suit against the Corps in federal court. The suit seeks an injunction, asserting that the pipeline will “damage and destroy sites of great historic, religious, and cultural significance,” a violation of the National Historic Preservation Act.

Though the pipeline seems to be a done deal, resistance of all types continues. Last week, the Des Moines Register reported that authorities are investigating suspected arson against the ETP’s heavy machinery. The fires, three separate incidents across two Iowa counties, resulted in nearly $1 million in damage to bulldozers and backhoes. The acts appeared to be intentional incidents of monkeywrenching.

On Thursday, a group of protesters, including the Standing Rock Sioux and their allies, gathered in North Dakota to oppose the pipeline, blocking the construction site. The police ultimately broke up the demonstration, resulting in at least five arrests.

No Dakota Access pipeline from Camp of the Sacred Stones blockade @POTUS@FLOTUS@USACEHQ
2:03 PM – 11 Aug 2016

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NY TIMES: Environmental Activists Take to Local Protests for Global Results

Repost from the New York Times

Environmental Activists Take to Local Protests for Global Results

By John Schwartz, March 19, 2016

Bill McKibben was arrested during a protest at Seneca Lake near Reading, N.Y., on March 7. He was protesting the proposed expansion of a natural gas storage facility. Credit Monica Lopossay for The New York Times

READING, N.Y. — They came here to get arrested.

Nearly 60 protesters blocked the driveway of a storage plant for natural gas on March 7. Its owners want to expand the facility, which the opponents say would endanger nearby Seneca Lake. But their concerns were global, as well.

“There’s a climate emergency happening,” one of the protesters, Coby Schultz, said. “It’s a life-or-death struggle.”

The demonstration here was part of a wave of actions across the nation that combines traditional not-in-my-backyard protests against fossil-fuel projects with an overarching concern about climate change.

Activists have been energized by successes on several fronts, including the decision last week by President Obama to block offshore drilling along the Atlantic Seaboard; his decision in November to reject the Keystone XL pipeline; and the Paris climate agreement.

Bound together through social media, networks of far-flung activists are opposing virtually all new oil, gas and coal infrastructure projects — a process that has been called “Keystone-ization.”

As the climate evangelist Bill McKibben put it in a Twitter post after Paris negotiators agreed on a goal of limiting global temperature increases: “We’re damn well going to hold them to it. Every pipeline, every mine.”

Regulators almost always approve such projects, though often with modifications, said Donald F. Santa Jr., chief executive of the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America. Still, the protests are having some impact. The engineering consultants Black and Veatch recently published a report that said the most significant barrier to building new pipeline capacity was “delay from opposition groups.”

Activists regularly protest at the headquarters of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in Washington, but there have also been sizable protests in places like St. Paul and across the Northeast.

In Portland, Ore., where protesters conducted a “kayaktivist” blockade in July to keep Shell’s Arctic drilling rigs from leaving port, the City Council passed a resolution opposing the expansion of facilities for the storage and transportation of fossil fuels.

Greg Yost, a math teacher in North Carolina who works with the group NC PowerForward, said the activists emboldened one another.

“When we pick up the ball and run with it here in North Carolina, we’re well aware of what’s going on in Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island,” he said. “The fight we’re doing here, it bears on what happens elsewhere — we’re all in this together, we feel like.”

The movement extends well beyond the United States. In May, a wave of protests and acts of civil disobedience, under an umbrella campaign called Break Free 2016, is scheduled around the world to urge governments and fossil fuel companies to “keep coal, oil and gas in the ground.”

This approach — think globally, protest locally — is captured in the words of Sandra Steingraber, an ecologist and a scholar in residence at Ithaca College who helped organize the demonstration at the storage plant near Seneca Lake: “This driveway is a battleground, and there are driveways like this all over the world.”

The idea driving the protests is that climate change can be blunted only by moving to renewable energy and capping any growth of fossil fuels.

Speaking to the crowd at Seneca Lake, Mr. McKibben, who had come from his home in Vermont, said, “Our job on behalf of the planet is to slow them down.”

He added, “If we can hold them off for two or three years, there’s no way any of this stuff can be built again.”

The demonstration at Seneca Lake earlier this month. Many protesters cheered when sheriff’s vans arrived. Credit Monica Lopossay for The New York Times

But the issues are not so clear cut. The protests aimed at natural gas pipelines, for example, may conflict with policies intended to fight climate change and pollution by reducing reliance on dirtier fossil fuels.

“The irony is this,” said Phil West, a spokesman for Spectra Energy, whose pipeline projects, including those in New York State, have come under attack. “The shift to additional natural gas use is a key contributor to helping the U.S. reduce energy-related emissions and improve air quality.”

Those who oppose natural gas pipelines say the science is on their side.

They note that methane, the chief component of natural gas, is a powerful greenhouse gas in the short term, with more than 80 times the effect of carbon dioxide in its first 20 years in the atmosphere.

The Obama administration is issuing regulations to reduce leaks, but environmental opposition to fracking, and events like the huge methane plume released at a storage facility in the Porter Ranch neighborhood near Los Angeles, have helped embolden the movement.

Once new natural gas pipelines and plants are in place, opponents argue, they will operate for decades, blocking the shift to solar and wind power.

“It’s not a bridge to renewable energy — it’s a competitor,” said Patrick Robbins, co-director of the Sane Energy Project, which protests pipeline development and is based in New York.

Such logic does not convince Michael A. Levi, an energy expert at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“Saying no to gas doesn’t miraculously lead to the substitution of wind and solar — it may lead to the continued operation of coal-fired plants,” he said, noting that when the price of natural gas is not competitive, owners take the plants, which are relatively cheap to build, out of service.

“There is enormous uncertainty about how quickly you can build out renewable energy systems, about what the cost will be and what the consequences will be for the electricity network,” Mr. Levi said.

Even some who believe that natural gas has a continuing role to play say that not every gas project makes sense.

N. Jonathan Peress, an expert on electricity and natural gas markets at the Environmental Defense Fund, said that while companies push to add capacity, the long-term need might not materialize.

“There is a disconnect between the perception of the need for massive amounts of new pipeline capacity and the reality,” he said.

Market forces, regulatory assumptions and business habits favor the building of new pipelines even though an evolving electrical grid and patterns of power use suggest that the demand for gas will, in many cases, decrease.

Even now, only 6 percent of gas-fired plants run at greater than 80 percent of their capacity, according to the United States Energy Information Administration, and nearly half of such plants run at an average load factor of just 17 percent.

“The electricity grid is evolving in a way that strongly suggests what’s necessary today won’t be necessary in another 20 years, let alone 10 or 15,” Mr. Peress said.

Back at Seneca Lake, the protesters cheered when Schuyler County sheriff’s vans showed up. The group had protested before, and so the arrests had the friendly familiarity of a contra dance. As one deputy, A.W. Yessman, placed zip-tie cuffs on Catherine Rossiter, he asked jovially, “Is this three, or four?”

She beamed. “You remember me!”

Brad Bacon, a spokesman for the owner of the plant at Seneca Lake, Crestwood Equity Partners, acknowledged that it had become more burdensome to get approval to build energy infrastructure in the Northeast even though regulatory experts have tended not to be persuaded by the protesters’ environmental arguments.

The protesters, in turn, disagree with the regulators, and forcefully. As he was being handcuffed, Mr. McKibben called the morning “a good scene.”

The actions against fossil fuels, he said, will continue. “There’s 15 places like this around the world today,” he said. “There will be 15 more tomorrow, and the day after that.”

A version of this article appears in print on March 20, 2016, on page A16 of the New York edition with the headline: Protesters Across U.S. Turn Up Heat on Fossil Fuel. Order Reprints| Today’s Paper|Subscribe
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U.S. Not Prepared for Tar Sands Oil Spills, National Study Finds

Repost from Circle of Blue

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.

China Shenzhen economic development office park economy Guangdong Province

Oil gathers in a sheen near the banks of the Kalamazoo River more than a week after a spill of crude oil, including tar sands oil, from Enbridge Inc.’s Line 6B pipeline in 2010. It was the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history. Click image to enlarge. Photo courtesy Sam LaSusa

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.

China Shenzhen economic development office park economy Guangdong Province

A sign held by a protester at a 2013 climate rally in Washington, D.C. notes the lingering difficulties associated with spills of diluted bitumen –namely that the oil can become submerged in the water. Click image to enlarge. Photo courtesy DCErica via Flickr Creative Commons

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.

China Shenzhen economic development office park economy Guangdong Province

A tar ball recovered on the edge of a cove in Mayflower, Arkansas, after tar sands crude spilled from ExxonMobil’s Pegasus pipeline in 2013. Click image to enlarge.

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.

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