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.
Repost from The Wall Street Journal [Editor: A good summary of recent history and market players in the emergence and future of crude by rail. Interesting quote: “…if all the railcars loaded with crude on one day were hitched to a single locomotive, the resulting train would be about 29 miles long.” – RS]
Dangers Aside, Railways Reshape Crude Market
Shipping Crude by Rail Expands as New Pipelines Hit Headwinds and Train Companies Reap Revenue
By Russell Gold and Chester Dawson, Sept. 21, 2014
In May 2008, a locomotive with a grizzly bear painted on its side pulled into a railroad siding next to an abandoned grain elevator in the ghost town of Dore, N.D. The engine, property of the Yellowstone Valley Railroad, hitched up a couple of tank cars of crude from nearby oil wells and set off on a thousand-mile journey to Oklahoma.
Dore would never be the same—and neither would the U.S. energy industry. Until then, most oil pumped in North America moved around the continent in pipelines. Suddenly, and just as the oil industry began a period of unprecedented growth, there was an alternative: “crude by rail.”
Today, 1.6 million barrels of oil a day are riding the rails, close to 20% of the total pumped in the U.S., according to the Energy Information Administration, chugging across plains and over bridges, rumbling through cities and towns on their way to refineries on the coasts and along the Gulf of Mexico. If all the railcars loaded with crude on one day were hitched to a single locomotive, the resulting train would be about 29 miles long.
Initially conceived of as a stopgap measure until pipelines could be constructed, and plagued by high-profile safety problems, crude by rail has nevertheless become a permanent part of the nation’s energy infrastructure, experts say. Even pipeline companies have jumped into the rail business, building terminals to load and unload crude.
Behind the new industry are powerful economics. While it costs a bit more to ship petroleum on trains than through pipelines, railroads have the flexibility to deliver it to wherever it will fetch the highest prices. And capital expenses are far lower. Major railroads’ revenue for hauling crude has jumped from $25.8 million in 2008 to $2.15 billion in 2013, according to federal data.
The oil and rail industries have developed “a mutual dependence likely to continue for a long time,” said Ed Morse, global head of commodities research for Citigroup.
It is a similar story in Canada: the amount of crude moving by rail has quadrupled since 2012, and is forecast to more than triple between now and 2016.
The swift growth of crude by rail has been embraced by drillers in new oil fields in North Dakota, Texas and Colorado eager to move their product to the highest bidders. It was also welcomed, at least initially, by railroads looking for new customers after the recession sent traditional shipments tumbling.
But it has frightened communities across the country where first responders fear the fireballs that have erupted in the past year after some oil-train derailments. Federal regulators recently proposed new rules to require sturdier cars to carry oil, lower speed limits on some shipments and testing of the volatility of the crude transported by train.
But pipelines, especially new pipelines, face a lot of problems these days. They draw protests from communities worried about spills and unhappy with the use of eminent domain to take rights of way from local landowners.
Activists opposed to the use of fossil fuels have focused on blocking pipelines in hopes of keeping oil in the ground. The Keystone XL pipeline, which requires federal approval because it crosses the U.S. border from Canada, has been seeking a permit since 2008 amid fierce political fighting, pro and con.
Railroads, by contrast, already own 140,000 miles of track in the U.S., according federal statistics, in a system that can send cargo from coast to coast, north to Canada and south to Mexico. By law, railroads don’t have the ability to turn down cargo, even if they want to, so all oil shippers had to do is to figure out how to get oil on and off the trains.
A big loading terminal might cost about $50 million—equal to the estimated cost of building just one mile of the Keystone pipeline.
With a terminal, “You can build it and have it under contract in 12 months and pay it off in five years,” said Steve Kean, president and chief operating officer of Kinder Morgan Inc., thtte operator of 80,000 miles of pipeline in North America and a growing network of rail terminals. The company has spent $290 million to date building up a crude-by-rail business.
To justify the massive investments needed for pipelines, their builders usually require drillers and refiners to sign long-term shipping contracts before they start laying pipe. That has been a problem for new oil fields without a track record, and for the mostly independent energy companies that developed those fields using hydraulic fracturing, said Adam Sieminski, who runs the federal government’s Energy Information Administration. Railroads don’t require such lengthy contracts.
The new way of moving crude was born out of frustration and need. In 2006, North Dakota faced what it called, in a report, a “crude oil transportation crisis.” Oil production was rising, but the few pipelines that served the state were full.
Enter Musket Corp., a privately held Houston company owned by the family that also owns Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores. Musket bought inexpensive diesel from refineries along the Gulf Coast and moved it by rail to locations close to the Love’s service stations, developing and patenting a portable pump for loading and unloading the fuel.
In 2007, Musket tried using its pump to load a couple of tank cars with crude oil rather than diesel. When that worked, the company sent employees driving around North Dakota with binoculars to find an unused railroad siding to lease. They spotted Dore.
“Pretty soon, we knew it was going to be big,” said J.P. Fjeld-Hansen, a managing director of Musket. Trains could deliver Bakken crude to wherever it could fetch the highest prices, including Philadelphia, California, Louisiana or the giant Houston petrochemical complex.
The first loads from Dore were carried to Oklahoma, home to a giant oil-trading hub, by BNSF Railway Co., now owned by Berkshire Hathaway Inc. It picked up the cars from Yellowstone Valley Railroad, a so-called short line railroad that now operates on just one mile of track — specializing in hauling freight from shippers’ yards to connections with the bigger railroads. The company that owns the railroad, Watco Companies Inc., didn’t respond to requests for comment.
“Crude is a growing part of our business,” said Michael Treviño, a spokesman for BNSF, which now moves more oil than any other major North American railroad and spent $200 million last year on crude-by-rail projects.
The Dore project caught the attention of EOG Resources Inc., a big oil and gas company based in Houston. By the end of 2009, EOG had built an industrial-scale rail-loading terminal in Stanley, N.D., including a 1.3-mile loop of track where trains could be loaded with 60,000 barrels a day.
“We brought the project to fruition in an eight-month period,” Mark Papa, the former chairman of the company, said in a conference call with analysts in 2010. The company declined to comment.
The terminal cost $50 million, according to Wilson & Company Inc., an engineering firm involved in the project. Its chairman, Kenny Hancock, said his firm needed to work out kinks with this first-of-its-kind facility.
One problem was that when tank cars were loaded, hydrocarbon fumes would leak out and, since they were heavier than air, settle in the long open-ended loading shed. “The first seal we tried didn’t work and our explosive limit alarms went off,” he said. New seals and ventilation fans eventually solved the problem, the company said.
The relative ease and low cost of building loading and unloading terminals soon attracted a range of companies. Great Western Railroad, a Saskatchewan short line mostly owned by the province’s farmers in a cooperative agreement, hauled more carloads of crude last year than carloads of grain.
In 2011, Dakota Plains Holding Co. built a loading terminal, acquired a Utah tanning salon business that traded on the OTC Bulletin Board, renamed the business and issued shares to raise funds to expand.
There was also a surge in facilities for unloading oil and transferring it to refineries; such terminals are operating or planned in nearly two dozen states and Canadian provinces. Mile-long trains of oil tankers became familiar sights in cities across the country.
The crude-by-rail phenomenon has spread beyond the Bakken Shale in North Dakota and Montana to the Permian Basin in Texas, the Niobrara in Colorado and to western Canada. In July, Global Partners said they planned to build a rail terminal in the heart of the Gulf Coast petrochemical complex that can handle more than 100,000 barrels a day of crude, including Canadian oil sands.
“It is not a layup to build a pipeline to the Gulf Coast,” said Mark Romaine, chief operating officer of Global Partners, a Waltham, Mass., fuel logistics firm. “Look at the Keystone XL.”
But a year ago, those strings of black train cars took on an ominous look after an unattended oil train in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, derailed and exploded, killing 47 people. Several other derailments were followed by fireballs as Bakken crude burst into towering flames.
Those accidents have given railroads second thoughts about hauling crude, said consultant Anthony Hatch. While companies don’t break out the data, hauling crude is believed to be very profitable for railroads, so “they were excited” at first, he said. But now that business, which makes up only about 3.5% of rail shipments, according to federal data, has attracted unwelcome attention in communities that previously ignored the freight trains rumbling through town. And even some of the largest North American railroads are concerned they might not survive the costs of cleanup and lawsuits if a train exploded in a crowded city.
Regulators are imposing new rules that industry executives fear could slow the entire rail system, cut capacity and cause congestion. Federal regulators recently concluded that Bakken oil contains a high level of combustible compounds, known as light ends, as The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this year. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s proposed new rules on crude by rail will require companies to test crude before putting it into appropriately sturdy tank cars, among other measures being imposed on the little-regulated industry.
Harold Hamm, chairman and chief executive of Continental Resources Inc., a leading exploration and production company in the Bakken, said that the problem isn’t with the oil, but with railroad safety. “There would not be any problems with oil movements in America as long as Mr. Buffett keeps the trains on the track,” said Mr. Hamm, referring to Warren Buffett, the chairman and chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway, the owner of BNSF.
Mr. Treviño, the BNSF spokesman, said that “the facts are that 99.997% of rail industry shipments of hazardous materials reach their destination without a release caused by a train accident,” and that BNSF had a lower percentage of derailments last year than anytime in company history.
Two BNSF trains were involved in a derailment near Casselton, N.D., in 2013 that released more than 400,000 gallons of crude and set off a several-story tall explosion, leading to the evacuation of 1,400 people from Casselton.
The Association of American Railroads said it has increased inspections, decreased speeds and is using more technology to prevent derailments.
But Mr. Hamm said he thinks the situation will be short lived. “Rail is still a temporary thing,” he said. “If rail hadn’t been available, there would have been pipelines built.”
And some are in the works. Enbridge Inc. recently received approval form North Dakota regulators to start construction on a $2.6 billion, 225,000-barrel a day and 600-mile project called the Sandpiper pipeline, which would move oil from Tioga, N.D., to Wisconsin.
In Dore, Musket says it isn’t worried about business drying up with the addition of pipelines. The company’s terminal in the town can now handle 60,000 barrels a day and employs 50 people; the company has built another rail-loading facility in Dickinson, a two-hour drive to the south, and one in the Niobrara Shale in Colorado.
“I don’t think it’s either/or,” Mr. Fjeld-Hansen said. “I think rail and pipe will coexist for a long time.”
—Betsy Morris and David George-Cosh contributed to this article.