Repost from CBS Minnesota [Editor: Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton learned about new routing of oil trains in a major metropolitan area AFTER THE FACT. That is how the railroads notify the public of major changes in crude by rail transport. It is important to have a sitting Governor join the chorus of voices on this highly significant issue of rail routing and notification. See the TV news video below, and read Gov. Dayton’s full letter here. – RS]
Dayton Pens Scathing Letter To BNSF President Over Oil Trains In Twin Cities
By Jennifer Mayerle, October 21, 2015 10:34 PM
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Gov. Mark Dayton says he’s deeply concerned about an increase in the number of oil trains traveling through heavily populated areas of the Twin Cities.
In a letter to the President of Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, Dayton estimates an additional 99,000 people are living within an evacuation zone. The areas include spots where thousands gather at a time, like Target Field and the University of Minnesota.
Kathy Harrell-Latham lives in downtown Minneapolis with her family.
“We chose this neighborhood because it’s accessible and the risks were relatively limited,” Harrell-Latham said.
She was concerned to learn 11 to 23 crude oil trains per week are being transported on the Willmar-Minneapolis-St. Paul rail line. And it goes by Target Field, Target Center, the U of M and downtown Minneapolis.
“There are people that live here and work here all day and we need the safety measures to go above and beyond,” Harrell-Latham said.
Gov. Mark Dayton wrote a scathing letter to the President of BNSF Railway citing safety concerns and outrage over not being informed of the “significant change in operation, which puts an additional 99,000 Minnesotans at risk.”
That brings the total number in the state to roughly 425,000.
“The Governor is absolutely right there should not be these dangerous oil and ethanol trains being routed through population areas,” DFL Rep. Frank Hornstein said.
Hornstein championed last year’s crude oil transport response bill. He applauds the Governor’s request for the railway to: issue a public statement about the temporary route, to not operate under Target Field during events and to extend first responder training to affected communities, among others.
It’s in an effort to prevent accidents like this BNSF train that derailed in Montana in July, and a 2013 accident in Quebec that killed 47.
“We need to have a much stronger safety protocol for these trains as they come through but the railroads are not cooperating and now we have more evidence of that,” Hornstein said.
In response, BNSF issued this statement:
“BNSF has multiple routes in the metro area that we utilize for hauling a variety of commodities. We comply with the law and report to the state crude volumes of a certain size and their routes and when they change by 25 percent. That occurred in this case where we have a major expansion project occurring and are rerouting some traffic to accommodate that construction work. Crude oil was already being shipped on the route in question. Volumes and routes can fluctuate for a number of reasons. In all areas of the metro region where we move crude oil and other hazmat, we take a number of steps to reduce risk. We’ll be talking directly with the Governor on his concerns and our ongoing efforts to safely move all commodities by rail.”
Gov. Dayton has asked BNSF to provide a progress report by the end of the month, and urges them to inform him and the public about changes.
Bakken-bearing pipeline meets stiff opposition in the Land of 10,000 Lakes
Daniel Cusick, EnergyWire, April 10, 2015
MINNEAPOLIS — A Canadian company proposes a multibillion-dollar oil pipeline through some of the Midwest’s prized lakes and wetlands, igniting a firestorm among environmentalists, tribes and anti-fossil fuel activists who say the proposal is built on hollow promises of economic development and dubious claims of environmental protection.
Sound familiar? It should. But the pipeline isn’t Keystone XL, and its developer is not TransCanada Corp., purveyor of the most polarizing energy project since the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository.
It is called Sandpiper, and its developer is Enbridge Corp., another Calgary, Alberta-based conglomerate whose extensive oil and gas pipeline network plunges deep into the U.S. interior.
The $2.6 billion Sandpiper project, which would move 225,000 barrels of crude per day roughly 610 miles from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota to an Enbridge hub in Superior, Wis., has been approved by North Dakota regulators. But it remains under administrative review in Minnesota, where developers are seeking a certificate of need to ship the oil and a route permit to build the pipeline across 300 miles of the state’s Lakes Belt.
An administrative law judge in St. Paul next week is expected to issue an advisory opinion that the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission will use to resolve some thorny questions around Sandpiper, including whether the line is necessary and what route it should follow to move Bakken crude across Minnesota to Wisconsin, where it would flow to other Enbridge lines serving refineries in Michigan, Illinois and Ohio.
Marathon’s president and CEO, Gary Heminger, has said the Sandpiper investment will give Marathon a 27 percent stake in Enbridge’s North Dakota pipeline system once the line is completed and provide “additional access to growing crude oil production from the Bakken Shale play and Canada, and direct participation in the transportation of these crudes into our markets.”
The opening of a new corridor through Minnesota will also help Enbridge manage aging infrastructure along its existing pipeline route through the Upper Great Lakes, known as the Lakehead System. Currently, six existing pipelines, some built as early as the 1950s, follow the Lakehead System route from a key Enbridge oil terminal in Clearbrook, in northwest Minnesota, to the cities of Bemidji and Grand Rapids before dipping south to Duluth and Superior.
Clearbrook is also the primary U.S. hub on Enbridge’s system for delivering Canadian tar sands oil from Alberta into the United States, and Enbridge has invested heavily in recent years to upgrade those lines, including adding new pump stations in Minnesota that will push up to 800,000 barrels per day of heavy Canadian crude to U.S. refineries.
Moreover, if Sandpiper is approved, Enbridge has said it will pursue another set of state permits to relocate one of its key Lakehead pipelines, known as Line 3, that was built in 1968 and is in need of retirement. Rather than rebuild Line 3 in its existing corridor, Enbridge has said it would prefer to relocate the line along the Sandpiper route at a cost of roughly $2.3 billion.
But environmental opposition, combined with lengthy regulatory proceedings, sagging oil prices and a troubling history of spills, including an 840,000-gallon contamination of Michigan’s Kalamazoo River in 2010, have created considerable hurdles for Enbridge as it tries to push through one of its most ambitious U.S. pipeline expansions in recent memory.
The stakes — for Enbridge, for its U.S. customers, and for residents and tribes in North Dakota and Minnesota — are high. If the Sandpiper line is built, the company says, millions of barrels of Bakken crude will be moved more safely and cheaply across northern Minnesota, while at the same time alleviating rail corridor congestion and reducing the risk of rail accidents like the Dec. 30, 2013, fiery collision between a derailed grain train and 108-car oil train near Casselton, N.D., resulting in 400,000 gallons of spilled crude and the evacuation of 1,400 residents.
Dealing with the ‘Keystone effect’
Currently, more than two-thirds of the North Dakota’s oil exports are shipped by rail using tanker cars, according to federal estimates, many of which lack the kind of safety features that have been proposed by the U.S. Department of Transportation and could become law later this year. More recent rail accidents, including oil train derailments in West Virginia and Illinois, have further pressured the oil and gas industry, railroads and government officials to find alternatives to shipping oil across long distances by rail and truck.
But if shipping crude by rail has come under tough scrutiny from the public and regulators, pipelines have fared little better, as evidenced by the industry’s track record of spills — estimated at 1,400 “significant incidents” since 1986 — and the deep political fissure over Keystone XL, which after years of languishing under a State Department review succumbed to a presidential veto in February after Republicans in Congress sought to approve the line legislatively.
The “Keystone effect,” as some have called it, goes beyond concerns about pipeline safety and routing to incorporate a broad suite of environmental issues, among them fossil fuel dependency and oil consumption’s contribution to greenhouse gases that drive climate change.
Al Monaco, Enbridge’s president and CEO, addressed some of those challenges in a speech to business executives in Minneapolis late last month.
“Solving infrastructure problems at its base is not rocket science,” he told the Minnesota-Canada Business Council, stressing the advanced technologies and materials deployed by industry to site new oil pipelines, inspect existing lines, and detect problems early and respond quickly.
The bigger challenge, Monaco said, stems from organized opposition to traditional energy resources and even some renewable resources such as wind turbines, and “the elevation of regional energy projects to a national policy debate.”
“This isn’t just short-term noise,” Monaco said. “Today, our regulators, our political leaders, our employees and the public, they expect more of energy companies. They want to know what we’re doing to continually improve, to get better.”
Working around the ‘Lakes Belt’
For critics like Kathryn Hoffman, an attorney with the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, “getting better” means several things, including acknowledging mistakes and correcting operational problems that cast doubt on Enbridge’s safety track record, including the record 2010 spill in Michigan, where cleanup remains a work in progress after $1 billion spent.
Hoffman and her client, the nonprofit group Friends of the Headwaters, also want Enbridge to explore alternatives to its preferred Sandpiper route, which crosses northern Minnesota’s “Lakes Belt,” a region dense in lakes, streams, wetlands and forest. To date, the company has refused to look at alternatives, saying its chosen Sandpiper route offers the best conditions, both environmentally and economically, for the line to make its way from an existing oil terminal in Clearbrook to its terminus at Duluth-Superior.
Hoffman, who has petitioned the Minnesota Court of Appeals to force a more detailed environmental review of Sandpiper than what is required by the PUC, said her client is not seeking to simply block the Sandpiper line from being constructed. Rather, she wants Enbridge to more fully examine the preferred route’s impacts to natural areas and weigh those findings against alternative routes that run along more developed corridors.
“Our position is that the proposed route is probably one of the worst locations in the state of Minnesota to run a pipeline,” she said.
Similar concerns were raised by Minnesota’s two environmental agencies — the Department of Natural Resources and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency — prompting the PUC last September to take an unprecedented step of asking for more information on alternative routes.
The Minnesota Department of Commerce provided a detailed report on six alternatives last December, but Enbridge maintains that none is viable because all are longer, are more expensive to build and do not pass through its terminal at Clearbrook, a critical element of the project.
“The fundamentals behind the project call for leveraging the existing infrastructure that’s already in place,” Paul Eberth, Enbridge’s Wisconsin-based Sandpiper project manager, said in a telephone interview. “By going to Clearbrook and then to Superior, we can make connections to customers without having to build a new line all the way down to the southern part of the state,” as most of the alternatives propose.
‘Oil companies are asking too much of our state’
But opponents of Sandpiper in its current configuration say southern Minnesota, where farming and urbanization have already altered much of the natural landscape, is exactly where new oil pipelines belong.
Among those pushing for a re-route are members of the state’s 40,000-person Ojibwe tribe, also known as the Chippewa or Anishinaabe, whose leaders maintain that the Sandpiper project threatens to foul northern Minnesota’s pristine waters with oil and disrupt traditional activities such as wild rice harvesting that are central to Native American life in the Great Lakes region.
Frank Bibeau, an attorney and member of the White Earth Nation of Ojibwe, whose reservation extends across three northern Minnesota counties, said in an interview that Enbridge has failed to examine such impacts in its Sandpiper routing decision. Moreover, the company continues to maintain that the pipeline does not physically cross tribal lands and therefore does not violate the tribe’s rights.
“We beg to differ with them on that point, and strongly,” said Bibeau, who maintains that the tribe’s treaty rights extend beyond reservation boundaries when dealing with traditional activities like wild rice harvesting.
Honor the Earth, a national activist group led by White Earth member Winona LaDuke, the former Green Party vice presidential candidate, has also pressed state officials, including Gov. Mark Dayton (D), to force a reconsideration of Sandpiper’s current route and issue a moratorium on any new pipeline development in the state’s lakes region.
“Oil companies are asking too much of our state,” LaDuke wrote in a letter to the governor. “While we remain a fossil fuel economy at present, sending one new pipeline … across the beautiful North Country is wrong and is not a good move for Minnesota.”
The group has taken its message public, too, with colorful roadside billboards and horseback rallies in hamlets like Backus, Minn., where the pipeline is proposed to cross an arterial highway just south of the Corner Store Restaurant & Gun Shop, a local gathering spot.
On a recent afternoon, Dave Sheley, the Corner Store’s owner and proprietor for 18 years, said the Sandpiper project has been a regular topic of conversation, both pro and con, among patrons of his cafe.
He described Backus and surrounding Pine County as “a poor community in general with a rich sub-community of cabin owners,” many of whom trek north on weekends from the Twin Cities to fish, swim, boat, bicycle or hunt in the region that otherwise has little happening economically.
While some are encouraged by Enbridge’s promise of 1,500 construction jobs and an estimated $25 million in new annual tax revenue, others say such benefits are countered by the intrusion of a major oil pipeline and the long-term risk of an accident or spill.
Sheley said he has seen a smattering of new business from surveyors and consultants working along the corridor route, which parallels an electricity transmission line. But he also knows that any surge in business during the line’s construction would be temporary, and the greatest economic benefit will go to landowners who have cut deals with Enbridge to route the pipeline across their property.
“I don’t own any land where they want to build, so I don’t have skin in the game,” he said. “For the most part, I’d say those people tend to be the most positive about it. But I can also see why the cabin owners and naturalist groups are concerned. A spill would be a big bummer if it happened.”
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Gov. Mark Dayton gave railroad companies and Republicans a public tongue-lashing Friday for their resistance to his tax plan to fund safety improvements across Minnesota’s railroad network.
Seven trains haul North Dakota crude across Minnesota daily — an influx that has contributed to backlogs of agricultural shipments and raised safety concerns after a string of recent explosive derailments.
With a throng of officials from towns dealing with the headaches of heavier train traffic behind him, Dayton called it “totally unacceptable” that railroads would oppose contributing more money to the state’s safety efforts. The governor and other fellow Democratic lawmakers have proposed a series of tax increases and annual fees on railroads to upgrade railroad crossings and ease congestion across Minnesota.
“That is the responsibility of the railroad,” Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, said of improvements.
By taxing train cars and levying an annual fee on Minnesota’ four major freight railroads, the state would net $330 million over the next decade, mostly for improvements at railroad crossings. Dayton’s plan would also fund increased training for first responders, including a new statewide training facility.
The governor is also planning to carve out $76 million from a bonding bill this year to build underpasses or overpasses in Moorhead, Prairie Island, Coon Rapids and Willmar, where passing trains block crossings for hours every day.
Railroad companies such as BNSF Railway, the state’s largest freight railroad and a major shipper of Bakken crude, balked at the governor’s proposal. In a statement, spokeswoman Amy McBeth said the company believes Dayton’s proposed taxes violate federal law “because they single out railroads for discriminatory taxation.”
The other three major freight railroads operating in Minnesota are Canadian Pacific, Union Pacific and Canadian National.
Majority House Republicans have also signaled they’re not on board with the tax increases.
“While the governor and I agree that our railroad crossings need improvements, the funding source is still the main issue,” said Rep. Tim Kelly, the Republican chair of the House Transportation Finance committee.
Dayton criticized Republicans for not supporting his plan, but he saved his strongest words for the railroad companies.
The governor said state officials believe they’re on solid legal ground to foot railroads with a larger tax bill. And he remained defiant in the face of a possible lawsuit from railroads if his proposal goes ahead.
“We’re going to do what we know is right for Minnesota. If they want to take us to court, that certainly shows their true colors,” Dayton said.
Repost from the Billings Gazette [Editor: This is not a fluffy human interest story, but an important offering on the oil industry and regulators in North Dakota. Significant quote: “‘If you want to fix a problem, you go to the source of the problem,’ he said. ‘You don’t prepare for something that doesn’t have to happen.’” Another good quote: “Pressure to make North Dakota crude oil safe for interstate shipment is mounting on several fronts.”– RS]
North Dakota man relentless in push for safer oil by rail shipping
November 02, 2014, by Patrick Springer, Forum News Service
FARGO, N.D. — Ron Schalow isn’t bashful about expressing his caustic opinions. He once wrote a book scolding President George W. Bush for failing to prevent the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Part of the title can’t be printed here, but the subtitle read, “The 9/11 Leadership Myth.”
More recently, the Fargo man, a frequent writer of letters to the editor, has focused his attention on explosive Bakken crude oil and rail safety – an issue that has drawn national attention after a series of fiery train derailments, including an accident that killed 47 people in Canada and one late last year near Casselton.
Schalow launched a petition drive originally called the “Bomb Train Buck Stops in North Dakota,” which he renamed the “Coalition for Bakken Crude Oil Stabilization,” a reference to the process for removing volatile gases.
Schalow’s background makes him an improbable activist. His early career was spent managing restaurants and bars, with a stint as a minor league baseball manager.
More recently, he worked for software companies including Microsoft in Fargo, but said he grew weary of corporate culture and office politics and turned to freelance work.
He has assembled a loose network of people concerned about the crude oil stabilization issue, including local officials in Minnesota and other states, but laments he has found little support for his crusade in North Dakota.
Still, North Dakota leaders have been under pressure from the federal government and other states, including Minnesota, to treat crude oil before shipping it around the country by rail to refineries.
The North Dakota Industrial Commission is preparing new standards, likely to take effect Jan. 1, to “condition” crude oil before transport to address safety concerns. Separately, federal officials are drafting more stringent safety standards for tanker cars.
“I think we have to take some responsibility over what’s going over the tracks into Minnesota and the rest of the country,” Schalow said. “It has a lot to do with this is a product that’s coming out of my state.”
By his own admission, 59-year-old Schalow is not a consensus builder. A freelance writer for marketing clients, he isn’t a joiner by nature. Bespectacled, with a goatee, he is soft-spoken but adamant in expressing his views.
He has peppered North Dakota officials, including petroleum regulators and the three-member Industrial Commission, with emails calling for action and asking who is in charge of what he sees as a vital issue of public safety.
“I’ve badgered them relentlessly,” he said.
He is dismayed by what he regards as a sluggish state response, even after an official “tabletop exercise” last June that estimated 60 or more casualties if an oil train derailed and exploded in Fargo or Bismarck.
The exercise simulated a disaster similar to the blast that killed 47 and destroyed much of the town of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, in July 2013.
For Schalow, the key to ensuring the oil is safe is to remove the volatile gases before shipping. Anything else, in his view, is passing along a potentially deadly problem for others to face.
“If you want to fix a problem, you go to the source of the problem,” he said. “You don’t prepare for something that doesn’t have to happen.”
Dealing with an explosive derailment can be costly. New York officials estimated, for example, it would take $40,000 in foam to extinguish one tanker car.
In the rail accident near Casselton last December, 20 tanker cars derailed, 18 of which were breached, unleashing a series of explosions and an enormous fireball. Intense heat kept the firefighters far from the flames, which they had to allow to burn out.
No one was seriously injured or killed in the crash.
“They can’t be prepared for combat explosions,” Schalow said, referring to the explosive fires that Bakken crude derailments have produced. “What would they do?”
North Dakota officials in the governor’s office and Department of Mineral Resources declined to talk about Schalow’s advocacy, but said the state is moving ahead to improve the safety of crude oil transportation.
“Gov. (Jack) Dalrymple takes rail transportation safety very seriously and he believes it’s important to have the public weigh in on this important issue,” said Jeff Zent, a spokesman and policy aide for the governor, the highest-ranking member of the Industrial Commission.
“That’s why the Industrial Commission will announce further regulations aimed at improving the safety of oil rail transportation,” he added.
“Our goal has always been to make crude oil as safe as possible for transport, within our jurisdiction,” said Alison Ritter, a spokeswoman for the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources, which regulates oil and gas production.
The department is also working with “the appropriate federal agencies to better communicate our role to make crude oil as safe as possible for transport,” Ritter said.
In contrast to North Dakota, most crude oil in Texas is stabilized before shipment. Pipeline companies routinely require stabilization before accepting shale oil.
“How hard is it to stand up and say I’m against trains blowing up in my town?” Schalow asked, referring to public officials’ initial reluctance to impose tougher standards.
A recent Forum Communications poll found that 60 percent of respondents were concerned about the safety of shipping crude oil by rail, but there has been no real clamor from residents, Schalow said.
“It’d be nice if someone stood up and defended me once or twice,” he said. As for holding a meeting of supporters, well, “Who would I call and who would dare show up? There’s no political will in this state except for that anonymous 60 percent.”
In Minnesota, Gov. Mark Dayton has urged North Dakota to stabilize oil before loading crude onto trains. An estimated 50 North Dakota oil trains roll through Minnesota each week, many with 100 tanker cars.
Pressure to make North Dakota crude oil safe for interstate shipment is mounting on several fronts.
Other states, including New York and California, where refineries take Bakken crude, are considering safety requirements.
“There’s a lot more angst across the country than there is here,” Schalow said, adding that most of his contacts are from other states, including New York, California and Washington state.
“I think he’s a pretty straight shooter,” said Tim Meehl, mayor of Perham, Minn., who is concerned about oil trains traveling through his town. “I think everything he says has a lot of merit to it.”
Meehl has not met Schalow, but saw him at a meeting in Moorhead earlier this fall attended by Dayton and local officials, and has exchanged emails with Schalow.
“They don’t want to step on toes out there,” Meehl, a native of Oakes, N.D., said of North Dakota officials’ deference to oil interests. “We need the oil. We just need to do it in a safer way.”
In North Dakota, residents and politicians seem reluctant to do anything that risks discouraging energy production, a powerful economic engine, Schalow said.
“You can’t say anything that might impact business, no matter what,” he said, describing what he regards as North Dakota’s curious culture of quiet acceptance.
Regulators aren’t alone in singling out oil tanker cars. BNSF announced last week that it will charge a $1,000 fee for each older crude oil tank car, more prone to puncture than newer models. By one estimate, that would add about $1.50 a barrel to the transportation cost.
In Texas, energy companies have invested hundreds of millions of dollars to make crude safer to handle. The cost of stabilizing crude oil could trim potential revenue by perhaps 2 percent, according to the estimate of an unidentified industry executive interviewed by The Wall Street Journal.
Schalow has been an outspoken critic of the Bush presidency and North Dakota leadership, but said he really has no allies in either political party.
A conservative blogger once described him as a “truther” for his criticisms of Bush, whom he castigated for failing to take pre-emptive action against al-Qaida despite warning signs of their terrorist ambitions. Schalow dismisses the “truther” label as unfair, saying he offered no conspiracy theories in his book.
He said the paperback sold 4,000 or 5,000 copies after it came out in 2006. No book is forthcoming on the issue of Bakken crude safety, but Schalow is unlikely to stop writing his letters, emails and Facebook posts.
“I don’t think it’s a political issue,” he said. “I think it’s a public safety issue.”