Repost from DeSmogBlog [Editor: DeSmog refers here to an October 2014 article by Curtis Tate of McClatchy News that first broke this story. I regret that the Benicia Independent failed to take note of this important article back then. I will add that I have mixed feelings about this report. Folks my age are aware of a long history of rogue investigations by the FBI, and we’ve become understandably wary of government agencies that serve the needs of corporate interests. Nonetheless, I fear that there are in fact real and horrendous risks of security attacks by unbalanced individuals on the left and the right – and abroad. For me, this is only one more reason to ban oil trains. – RS]
FBI Advisory: Oil Trains At Risk of “Extremist” Attack, But Lacks “Specific Information” To Verify
Rail industry lobbying groupspublished the one-page FBI Private Sector Advisory as an exhibit to a jointly-submitted August 2014 comment sent to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT), which has proposed “bomb trains” regulations currently under review by the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA).
In August 2014, DeSmog also reported that in Maryland, rail company Norfolk Southern submitted a July 23, 2014 legal filing to the Maryland Department of the Environment citing Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda in its attempt to justify keeping oil-by-rail routes a trade secret. Norfolk submitted that filing merely five days after the FBI published its Private Sector Advisory.
While Norfolk Southern cited Biden Laden and Al Qaeda in its affidavit, the FBI honed in on the Islamic State (IS), also sometimes referred to as the Islamic State in Syria (ISIS) or the Islamic State in the Levant (ISIL). It also mentioned Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) — and Osama Bin Laden.
Like Maryland, the rail industry lobbying groups cited the FBI Advisory as a way to argue against disclosing oil-by-rail routes to the public.
“It is not just environmental extremists who pose a threat to the transportation of crude by rail. Foreign terrorists are also a risk,” wrote the industry lobbying groups. “Two publications reportedly by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula contain threats against crude oil trains…Furthermore, information from Osama Bin Laden’s compound indicates that Al-Qaeda has contemplated attacks on trains.”
Louis Warchot, an attorney for the Association of American Railroads, co-authored the comment submitted to DOT.
Before working for the association, Warchot “served in the United States Armed Forces and retired in the rank of Colonel in the United States Army Reserve Judge Advocate General’s Corps.” On top of his law, business masters and undergraduate degrees from University of California-Berkeley, Warchot also has a masters from the U.S. Army War College in Strategic Studies.
“Extremism” or Peaceful Activism?
In the FBI‘s advisory, it never uses the term “activist” or “advocate,” opting instead for the term “extremist.” So what does an “extremist” do and what exactly constitutes an extremist?
“Environmental extremists,” explains the Bureau, “believe the use of fossil fuels contributes to the destruction of our environment and may believe that transport of crude oil creates the potential for environmental hazardous train derailments and oil spills.”
It’s a definition that almost anyone who understands the science of climate change or is concerned about oil train explosions could fall under. The FBI then lays out what these “extremists” do.
According to the FBI, they use social media to spread awareness of oil-by-rail routes (like sharing a link to the ForestEthics website “Oil Train Blast Zone”) and make or send “threatening” phone calls or emails to industry, contractors or others associated with moving crude by rail.
“The FBI should be looking carefully at the imminent threat oil trains pose to millions of Americans living in the blast zone, but they should then turn their attention to the lax rules from the Department of Transportation and the oil and rail industry who fight common sense safety steps and hide train routes from emergency responders,” Ross Hammond, US Campaigns Director for ForestEthics, told DeSmog.
Speaking of threats, perhaps the FBI should concern itself with the explosive oil-by-rail trains that pass underneath West Point and right next to nuclear missile launch sites, rather than things that fall under the purview of First Amendment-protected speech threatening to industry profits.
*An earlier version of this article cited Chemical Security News as the first website to report on the FBI document. McClatchy DC was actually the first news outlet to report on the document’s existence as part of the U.S. Department of Transportation oil-by-rail rulemaking docket back in October 2014. We regret the error.
Photo Credit: First responders in Lac Megantic via Transportation Board of Canada.
Alberta’s possible pivot to the left alarms Canadian oil sector
By Scott Haggett and Nia Williams, May 4, 2015 7:07am EDT
(Reuters: CALGARY, Alberta) – Canada’s oil-rich province of Alberta is on the cusp of electing a left-wing government that can make life harder for the energy industry with its plans to raise taxes, end support for key pipeline projects and seek a bigger cut of oil revenues.
Polls suggest Tuesday’s election is set to end the Conservative’s 44-year reign in the province that boasts the world’s third-largest proven oil reserves and now faces recession because of the slide in crude prices.
Surveys have proven wrong in Canadian provincial elections before and voters may end up merely downgrading the Conservatives’ grip on power to a minority government.
Yet the meteoric rise of the New Democratic Party and the way it already challenges the status-quo of close ties between the industry and the ruling establishment has alarmed oil executives. The proposed review of royalties oil and gas companies pay the government for using natural resources and which could lead to higher levies, is a matter of particular concern.
“Now is not the time for a review of oil and natural gas royalties,” Tim McMillan, president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the country’s top oil lobby, said in a statement.
A 2007 increase in the levy was rolled back when the global financial crisis struck and oil executives say today the time is equally bad to try it again.
Yet the left’s leader Rachel Notley, a former union activist and law school graduate, has shot up in popularity ratings in the past months advocating policies that have been anathema for many conservative administrations.
She says she would not lobby on behalf of TransCanada Corp’s controversial Keystone XL pipeline or support building of Enbridge Inc’s Northern Gateway pipeline to link the province’s oil sands with a Pacific port in British Columbia. Citing heavy resistance from aboriginal groups to the Enbridge line, Notley says Alberta should back those that are more realistic such as TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline to the Atlantic ocean.
Notley also advocates a 2 percentage point rise in Alberta’s corporate tax rate to 12 percent to shore up its budget that is expected to swing from a surplus to a C$5 billion deficit in 2015/2016 as energy-related royalty payments and tax revenues shrink.
Even with the proposed corporate tax hike Alberta’s overall taxes would remain the lowest nationally. Oil executives warn, however, that any new burdens at a time when the industry is in a downturn, shedding jobs and cutting spending, could prompt firms to move corporate head offices out of the province.
“Business is mobile,” said Adam Legge, president of the Chamber of Commerce in Calgary where most of Canada’s oil industry is based. “Capital, people and companies move.”
Ironically, the challenge the oil industry and the Conservatives face is in part a by-product of Alberta’s rapid growth fueled by the oil-sands boom.
The influx of immigrants from other parts of Canada and overseas has changed the once overwhelmingly white and rural province. Today Alberta is one of the youngest provinces and polls show younger and more diverse population is more likely to support left-wing causes such as environment and education and more critical of big business. The New Democratic Party still only got 10 percent of the votes in the 2012 vote, but an election of a Muslim politician as a mayor of Calgary in 2010 served as an early sign of the changing political landscape.
The Conservatives themselves and their gaffe-prone leader Premier Jim Prentice also share the blame for the reversal of fortunes with one poll showing them trailing the left by 21 percent to 44 percent.
Prentice angered voters when he told Albertans to “look in the mirror” to find reasons for the province’s fiscal woes and then passed a budget in March that raised individual taxes and fees for government services but spared corporations.
Scandals – Prentice’ s predecessor left last year because of a controversy over lavish spending – and blunders added to the party’s woes.
The NDP vaulted to the top of the polls after Notley’s strong performance in an April 23 televised debate, when Prentice, former investment banker, drew fire for suggesting his rival struggled with math.
Then there is voter fatigue with a party seen as too comfortable and scandal-prone after decades in power.
“It’s still the same gang, the same policy, same procedures, the same concept of entitlement,” said one executive at a large oil and gas producer who declined to be named because he is not authorized to talk to the media. “I know some extremely neo-conservative guys who have said enough is enough.”
(Additional reporting by Julie Gordon in Vancouver and Mike De Souza in Ottawa; Editing by Amran Abocar and Tomasz Janowski)
TransCanada is promoting Energy East (April 20 commentary), a pipeline that will cut through Harbour Landing in Regina.
Using an old natural gas pipeline for the Saskatchewan portion, Energy East will transport 175 million litres of tarsands oil per day from Alberta to Eastern Canada, mainly for export.
TransCanada claims its pipelines are safe, but in its initial year of operation, TransCanada’s first Keystone pipeline, constructed in 2010, had 12 spills, including one that dumped 79,493 litres of oil in North Dakota. [Editor: See Wall Street Journal report. Also ClimateProgress.]
Energy East is especially risky. The Saskatchewan section of the pipeline is 43 years old and was constructed to carry natural gas, not tarsands oil, a thicker substance requiring higher pumping pressure.
Should Energy East be approved, the question is not if, but when there will be pipeline leaks and spills. What happened in North Dakota could happen right in Regina.
TransCanada also claims that pipeline transport of oil is safer than rail transport. In truth, both are safety hazards.
Moreover, both modes of transport facilitate the expansion of tarsands production, an environmental hazard. Indeed, climate scientists warn that, if we are to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we must leave at least 80 per cent of tarsands oil in the ground.
Citizen safety, health, and welfare must take precedence over corporate profit.
Regina should follow the good example of Toronto and ban the transport of tarsands oil through our city by rail or pipeline.
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.”