By Capital Staff and Wire Reports, June 5, 2015 5:08 pm
ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission has approved a certificate of need for the proposed Sandpiper pipeline route through northern Minnesota as it goes from North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields to Superior, Wisconsin.
While the PUC agreed 5-0 Friday that the $2.6 billion, 610-mile pipeline – about 300 miles across Minnesota – is necessary, they didn’t foreclose the possibility of more changes on its proposed path, the Associated Press reported.
The PUC said it still might reroute Enbridge’s proposed route away from environmentally sensitive lakes, streams and wetlands in northern Minnesota. Enbridge Energy will still have to go through a lengthy review of its proposed route and a proposed alternative.
Enbridge says it would like to have it operating in 2017.
The proposed route goes from the oil field near Tioga, N.D., near Williston, to Superior, Wis., where ocean-going vessels can dock just below Duluth on Lake Superior. In North Dakota it follows fairly closely to U.S. Highway 2.
The Minnesota portion would go 75 miles from Grand Forks, N.D., east to the main Enbridge junction at Clearbrook, Minn., with 24-inch pipe with a capacity of 225,000 barrels per day.
Then for a 225-mile leg, it jogs south to Park Rapids, Minn. – which is on a line east of Fargo – and then east to Superior with a 30-inch pipeline with a capacity of 375,000 barrels per day, according to Enbridge.
At a capacity of 375,000 barrels a day across Minnesota, the Sandpiper would carry the equivalent of about 525 rail tanker cars, each holding 714 barrels, or about five trains of crude oil, every day.
Enbridge says Sandpiper is needed to move the growing supply of North Dakota crude safely and efficiently to market.
But environmentalists and tribal groups say the risk of leaks is too high.
North Dakota regulators have already approved Sandpiper.
North Dakota produces about 1.2 million barrels of oil per day, about 13 percent of U.S. production; roughly two-thirds of it leaves the state by train.
Recent explosive derailments of oil trains have informed the debate over building new pipelines.
More oil-train fixes: Feds order defective valves replaced on leaking cars
By Samantha Wohlfeil and Curtis Tate, March 13, 2015
WASHINGTON — The Federal Railroad Administration on Friday ordered rail tank car owners to replace defective valves never approved for installation on thousands of tank cars, causing oil to spill from moving trains.
The directive applies to a 3-inch valve installed on roughly 6,000 tank cars, and their owners have 60 days to replace them. Within 90 days, tank car owners must also replace 37,000 1-inch and 2-inch valves manufactured by the same company. While the smaller valves were not found to be defective like the larger ones, they were not approved for the tank cars.
The affected cars can be used in the interim, but none can be loaded with hazardous materials if they are still equipped with those valves after the deadlines.
The enforcement action comes after a story last month in McClatchy’s Bellingham Herald about 14 tank cars that were discovered leaking en route from North Dakota’s Bakken region to the Tesoro refinery in Anacortes, Wash.
Friday’s enforcement action is the second to follow an investigation launched after McClatchy reported on leaking cars in Washington.
On Thursday, the agency said it had sanctioned the operator of a North Dakota loading facility for not properly closing a valve on another oil car after McClatchy reported in January that the car arrived at the BP Cherry Point refinery in northwest Washington state with 1,600 gallons missing.
The 1-inch, 2-inch and 3-inch valves were all manufactured and sold by McKenzie Valve and Machining, a company in Tennessee. The Bellingham Herald could not immediately reach anyone at McKenzie, but left messages with the company Friday.
The Federal Railroad Administration also announced Friday that it was launching a full audit of the approval process for tank car components to determine why the unapproved valves were installed.
The Federal Railroad Administration said it would begin working immediately with the association, which is the rail industry’s principal trade group in the nation’s capital.
Sarah Feinberg, the FRA’s acting chief, said Friday that removal of the valves will help reduce the number of non-derailment releases of hazardous materials.
“Any type of hazardous materials release, no matter how small, is completely unacceptable,” she said in a statement.
Ed Greenberg, a spokesman for the railroad association, said Friday that it supported the order. Railroads don’t own most of the tank cars used to transport oil.
“Officials from our association will be working closely with the administration in reviewing the tank car valve approval process to ensure the agency is fully satisfied with the current approval requirements that are in place,” he said in a statement.
The Federal Railroad Administration’s order came about a month after crews discovered tank cars leaking oil from their top fittings on a handful of trains hauling different types of crude oil through Washington state.
In mid-January, a train loaded with Bakken crude needed to have more than a dozen leaking cars removed at three separate stops as it traveled through Idaho and crossed Washington state.
The train was headed from Tioga, N.D., to the Tesoro refinery in Anacortes.
In a report to the U.S. Department of Transportation, BNSF reported a total of 26 gallons of oil leaking from 14 cars. Tesoro reported two more leaking cars. The oil was found only on the tops and sides of tank cars, and no oil was found on the ground.
Crews had first noticed oil on the side of a tank car while the train was in northern Idaho, and after checking the rest of the train, removed that car, which had leaked about two gallons, according to BNSF spokeswoman Courtney Wallace.
After the train had crossed through the state, following the Columbia River to Vancouver, Wash., crews found that crude oil had leaked onto the top of seven more cars, which were removed from the train on Jan. 12. BNSF reported the incident to the state Department of Ecology on Jan. 23.
BNSF also reported that about 10 gallons total had leaked from six more cars removed in Auburn on Jan. 13.
Wallace said the railroad would work with customers and shippers to take the required actions.
“Although BNSF does not own the tank cars, nothing is more important to us than safely operating through the communities that we serve,” she said in a statement.
The state Utilities and Transportation Commission and the FRA investigated the cars that were pulled from the train in Vancouver, which led to the discovery that closure plugs on the valves caused damage to the valve’s seal, and when tightened, would press down on and damage the ball.
The cars involved were CPC-1232 model cars built after 2011, which some oil companies have started using after several fiery derailments caused concerns about older DOT-111 rail cars, which have been found more likely to puncture or burst.
However, newer CPC-1232-standard cars that lack features that reduce damage from punctures and fire exposure have performed no better in four recent oil train derailments in West Virginia, Illinois and Ontario.
The White House Office of Management and budget is reviewing a new tank car standard proposed by the Department of Transportation. It is scheduled for publication on May 12.
Wohlfeil, of The Bellingham Herald, reported from Washington state. Tate reported from Washington, D.C.
Repost from The New York Times [Editor: Part 2 in a series (See Part 1). This is an INCREDIBLE expose of political corruption and a masterful portrayal of the transformation taking place in North Dakota, where residents and business people are losing confidence in the oil boom promises they once embraced. Due to it’s GORGEOUS and informative interactive imagery, the Benicia Independent can only repost the beginning of this lengthy and immersive article. Get started here, then click on MORE. – RS]
Where Oil and Politics Mix
After an unusual land deal, a giant spill and a tanker-train explosion, anxiety began to ripple across the North Dakota prairie.
By DEBORAH SONTAG, NOV. 23, 2014
TIOGA, N.D. — In late June, as black and gold balloons bobbed above black and gold tables with oil-rig centerpieces, the theme song from “Dallas” warmed up the crowd for the “One Million Barrels, One Million Thanks” celebration.
The mood was giddy. Halliburton served barbecued crawfish from Louisiana. A commemorative firearms dealer hawked a “one-million barrel” shotgun emblazoned with the slogan “Oil Can!” Mrs. North Dakota, in banner and crown, posed for pictures. The Texas Flying Legends performed an airshow backlit by a leaping flare of burning gas. And Gov. Jack Dalrymple was the featured guest.
Traveling through the “economically struggling” nation, Mr. Dalrymple told the crowd, he encountered many people who asked, “Jack, what the heck are you doing out there in North Dakota?” to create the fastest-growing economy, lowest unemployment rate and (according to one survey) happiest population.
“And I enjoy explaining to them, ‘Yes, the oil boom is a big, big help,’ ” he said.
Outsiders, he explained, simply need to be educated out of their fear of fracking: “There is a way to explain it that really relaxes people, that makes them understand this is not a dangerous thing that we’re doing out here, that it’s really very well managed and very safe and really the key to the future of not only North Dakota but really our entire nation.”
Tioga, population 3,000, welcomed North Dakota’s first well in 1951, more than a half-century before hydraulic fracturing liberated the “tight oil” trapped in the Bakken shale formation. So it was fitting that Tioga ring in the daily production milestone that had ushered the Bakken into the rarefied company of historic oil fields worldwide.
But Tioga also claims another record: what is considered the largest on-land oil spill in recent American history. And only Brenda Jorgenson, 61, who attended “to hear what does not get said,” mentioned that one, sotto voce.
The million-barrel bash was devoid of protesters save for Ms. Jorgenson, a tall, slender grandmother who has two wells at her driveway’s end and three jars in her refrigerator containing blackened water that she said came from her faucet during the fracking process. She did not, however, utter a contrary word.
“I’m not that brave (or stupid) to protest among that,” she said in an email afterward. “I’ve said it before: we’re outgunned, outnumbered and out-suited.”
North Dakotans do not like to make a fuss. Until recently, those few who dared to challenge the brisk pace of oil development, the perceived laxity of government oversight or the despoliation of farmland were treated as killjoys. They were ignored, ridiculed, threatened, and paid settlements in exchange for silence.
But over the past year and some, the dynamic seemed to be shifting.
Satellite photos of western North Dakota at night, aglitter like a metropolis with lighted rigs and burning flares, crystallized its rapid transformation from tight-knit agricultural society to semi-industrialized oil powerhouse. Proposals to drill near historic places generated heated opposition. The giant oil spill in Tioga in September 2013 frightened people, as did the explosion months later of a derailed oil train, which sent black smoke mushrooming over a snowy plain.
Then, this year, North Dakotans learned of discovery after discovery of illegally dumped oil filter socks, the “used condoms” of the oil industry, which contain radiation dislodged from deep underground.
Suddenly a percolating anxiety came uncorked. “The worm is turning,” Timothy Q. Purdon, the United States attorney, said in April.