Pipeline Explodes In West Virginia, Sends Fireball Shooting Hundreds Of Feet In The Air
By Emily Atkin, January 27, 2015
A gas pipeline in Brooke County, West Virginia exploded into a ball of flames on Monday morning, marking the fourth major mishap at a U.S. pipeline this month.
No one was hurt in the explosion, but residents told the local WTRF 7 news station that they could see a massive fireball shooting hundreds of feet into the air. An emergency dispatcher reportedly told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that the flames had melted the siding off one home and damaged at least one power line. The gas pipeline is owned by Houston, Texas-based The Enterprise Products, L.P., which said Monday evening that it is investigating the cause of the explosion.
The West Virginia explosion is the fourth in a string of news-making pipeline incidents this month. Earlier this month, a gas pipeline in Mississippi operated by GulfSouth Pipeline exploded, rattling residents’ windows and causing a smoke plume large enough to register on National Weather Service radar screens. On Jan. 17, a pipeline owned by Bridger Pipeline LLC in Montana spilled up to 50,000 gallons of crude oil into the Yellowstone River, a spill that left thousands of Montanans without drinkable tap water. Just a few days later, on Jan. 22, it was discovered that 3 million gallons of saltwater drilling waste had spilled from a North Dakota pipeline earlier in the month. That spill was widely deemed the state’s largest contaminant release into the environment since the North Dakota oil boom began.
The four incidents come while American lawmakers are entrenched in debate whether the controversial Keystone XL pipeline — a proposed 1,700-mile line that would bring up to 860,000 barrels of Canadian tar sands crude oil down to Texas and Louisiana refineries every day — is in the national interest.
One of arguments most often made by environmentalists against the pipeline is that, if a spill were to occur from Keystone XL, it would be harder to clean up than a spill from a conventional oil or gas pipeline. Canadian tar sands oil is thicker and more sludgy than regular oil, and does not float on top of water like conventional crude. Instead, it gradually sinks to the bottom. Environmentalists are particularly concerned about the fact that Keystone XL would pass over the Ogallala aquifer, Nebraska’s primary source of drinking water. Nebraska’s state Department of Environmental Quality has said that a spill in or around the aquifer would only affect local, not regional water sources.
The Republican-controlled House of Representatives has already passed a bill approving Keystone XL’s construction, and the Senate is expected to pass an identical bill this week, though it has come up against unexpected procedural hurdles. President Obama has pledged to veto the bill.
Repost from The Benicia Herald [Editor: Benicia’s own Grant Cooke has written a highly significant three-part series for The Benicia Herald, outlining the impending fall of the fossil fuel industry and concluding with good advice for the City of Benicia and other cities dependent on refineries for a major portion of their local revenue stream.This is the first of three parts. Read part part two by CLICKING HERE and part three by CLICKING HERE and . – RS]
Grant Cooke: Big Oil’s endgame has begun
September 28, 2014 by Grant Cooke
Editor’s note: First of three parts to run on consecutive Sundays.
“THE STONE AGE CAME TO AN END, not because we had a lack of stones, and the oil age will come to an end not because we have a lack of oil,” said Sheikh Ahmed-Zaki Yamani. The former Saudi oil minister is arguably the world’s foremost expert on the oil industry. In 2000, he introduced this extraordinary observation with an even more prescient one — to wit, “Thirty years from now there will be a huge amount of oil — and no buyers. Oil will be left in the ground,” he told the UK’s Telegraph.
A decade and half later, we are coming to the end of Big Oil, and the domination of the world’s geopolitics and economy by the fossil-fuel interests for the past century. Correspondingly, the carbon- and nuclear-powered centralized utility industry that was started by Thomas Edison in 1882 when he flipped the switch at the Pearl Street substation in Manhattan has begun its decline.
Over the years, Big Oil and its related industries and supporters have disrupted the way humans manage their affairs, and wreaked havoc on our environmentally fragile planet. Today, the loss of a major section of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet from global warming caused by excessive carbon-generated heat appears unstoppable.
That hasn’t stopped the dead-enders from fighting on. In February, North Carolina’s Republican governor turned his administration into a joke with a clumsy attempt to help Duke Energy, the nation’s largest utility, avoid cleaning up 39,000 tons of coal ash that was spilled into the Dan River. The Duke ash coal spill came a month after 10,000 gallons of 4-methylcyclohexane methanols, or MCHM, spilled into West Virginia’s Elk River, ruining the water supply of Charleston, the state’s capital. A second chemical, a mix of polyglycol ethers known as PPH, was part of the leak, the company involved, Freedom Industries, told federal regulators. The company uses the chemicals to wash coal prior to shipping for coal-powered utilities. More than 300,000 West Virginians were impacted and several hundred residents were hospitalized with various symptoms.
Closer to home in Northern California, we had the massive 2012 Chevron fire that sent toxic chemicals billowing into the air and caused respiratory problems for 15,000 Richmond residents. Chevron admitted to negligence as the cause of the fire. In 2010, PG&E’s neglect led to the horrific San Bruno gas pipeline explosion that killed eight, injured 66 and destroyed 38 homes. The California Public Utilities Commission fined PG&E $2.5 billion, the largest fine in U.S. utility history. PG&E now faces federal charges that it violated the U.S. Pipeline Safety Act.
For several years, U.S. oil oligarchs Charles and David Koch have made a mockery of American democracy by pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into smear campaigns against scientists, environmentalists and liberal politicians. More than any others in recent memory, the Koch brothers have manage to replace consensus and compromise with vitriol and dysfunction in U.S. politics.
Oil madness is not a strictly U.S. disease. Vladimir Putin, channeling the ghost of Joseph Stalin, recently swept up a huge chunk of Ukraine and threatened an astonished Europe that if it opposed him, the result would be a shutdown of the Russian natural gas that many see as vital to the EU’s economic recovery. And the world seems to have grown accustomed to Mideast mayhem, where the biggest transfer of wealth in world history — from the oil users to the oil suppliers — has led to social and political chaos, repression, suffering and death.
* * *
EVEN AFTER A CENTURY OF SUPPORT, the U.S. federal government grants the oil industry, the world’s richest, with about $4 billion a year in tax subsidies, and Exxon Mobil Corporation (the largest grossing company in the world) minimizes the taxes it pays by using 20 wholly owned subsidiaries in the Bahamas, Bermuda and the Cayman Islands to legally shelter cash from its operations in Angola, Azerbaijan and Abu Dhabi.
The coal industry is also favored with tax breaks, public land loopholes and subsidized railroads. A 2013 Harvard University study concluded that the total real economic costs from U.S. coal amounted to $345.3 billion, adding close to 17.8 cents per kilowatt hour to the cost of electricity generated from coal. Called “external costs, or externalities,” these costs are borne by the U.S. public.
Now the carbon-based industries, which include coal, oil, natural gas and related industries like centralized utilities and transmission line companies, are coming to the end of their socially useful cycle. Their resources are aging beyond economic justification and their business models are too inflexible to adapt to a new industrial era with a different energy model.
This new era of energy generation, storage and sharing is upon us. We call it the Green Industrial Revolution, and it is emerging as the next significant political, social and economic era in world history. As it takes hold, it will result in a complete restructuring of the way energy is generated, supplied and used. It will be a revolutionary time of extraordinary potential and opportunity, with remarkable innovations in science and energy that will lead to new ones in sustainable, smart and carbon-less economies powered by nonpolluting technologies like wind, geothermal, wave, river and solar, with their advanced technologies like flywheels, regenerative and maglev systems, and hydrogen fuel cells.
Community-based and on-site renewable energy generation will replace massive fossil fuel and nuclear-powered central plant utilities. New advances in efficient recyclable batteries and fuel cells will store energy for when it is needed. Smart green grids will share electricity effortlessly. Additive manufacturing will minimize wasted resources, and new sciences like nanotechnology will have a profound impact on business, careers, human health and the global economy.
This new era encompasses changes in technology, economics, business, manufacturing, jobs and consumer lifestyles. The transition will be as complete as when the steam-driven First Industrial Revolution gave way to the fossil fuel-driven Second Industrial Revolution. It is a monumental shift that is already under way and spreading rapidly around the world.
Industrial revolutions occur when a new energy source intersects with a new form of communication. In the First Industrial Revolution, steam was the energy source and the printing press provided the means to disseminate new ideas that accelerated scientific breakthroughs and the adoption of inventions. In the Second Industrial Revolution, the fossil fuel-driven internal combustion engine was the power source and analog communication provided the channel for new ideas and technologies.
Today, the digital age, with Internet access to almost all scientific knowledge and Facebook and Twitter-led social media, has intersected with renewable energy generation, hydrogen storage and smart grids. While vast fortunes were made in the fossil-fuel era by extracting natural resources and despoiling the environment, wealth in this new green era will come from digital and IT breakthroughs, intelligent machines and a host of environmentally sensitive inventions.
Many factors are coming together to hasten the Green Industrial Revolution. Putin’s march on Ukraine shocked Europe and stirred the region’s efforts to generate more renewable energy and cut ties to fossil fuel. Forty percent of Scotland’s domestic electricity generation comes from renewable sources, mostly tidal and wind. Denmark and other Nordic nations intend to generate 100 percent of their energy by mid-century. Germany’s Energiewende (Energy Transformation), which aims to power the country almost entirely on renewables by 2050, is accelerating.
Almost daily, scientists in university and national research laboratories are making breakthroughs in developing non-carbon energy sources. The chemistry department of the University of California-Davis recently figured out how to make carbon-less gasoline from straw. Advancements in nanotechnology are making electricity usage much more efficient.
China is considering a ban on new cars that run on fossil fuels, and major cities across the globe have limited the use of autos in downtown areas. Several nations — and California, too — are creating hydrogen highways. Norway, Sweden and Germany have them; California will open its hydrogen highway in 2016. Daimler, Honda, Chevrolet and most other major automobile manufacturers have hydrogen-powered fuel cell cars ready to go.
Grant Cooke is a long-time Benicia resident and CEO of Sustainable Energy Associates. He is co-author, with Nobel Peace Prize winner Woodrow Clark, of “The Green Industrial Revolution: Energy, Engineering and Economics,” to be released in October by Elsevier, of which this column is excerpted.
By April Baumgarten, Forum News Service, August 25, 2014
DICKINSON, N.D. – What can be done to keep trains from becoming “Bakken bombs?”
It’s a question on the minds of many North Dakota residents and leaders, so much that some are calling on the state Industrial Commission to require oil companies to use technology to reduce the crude’s volatility. The words are less than kind.
“Every public official in America who doesn’t want their citizens incinerated will be invited to Bismarck to chew on the commissioners of the NDIC for failing to regulate the industry they regulate,” Ron Schalow of Fargo wrote in a Facebook message.
A train carrying Bakken crude derailed and exploded July 6, 2013, in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing 47 people. Another oil train crashed into a derailed soybean train on Dec. 30 near Casselton, N.D. No one was killed.
Schalow has started a campaign to require oil companies that drill in North Dakota to use stabilizers, a technology used in Texas to take natural gas liquids off crude to make it safer to ship. His online petition demands the Industrial Commission to force oil companies to remove all explosive natural gas liquids from crude before shipping it by rail. More than 340 people have signed the petition as of Saturday.
Schalow declined an interview, referring instead to his petition and Facebook page titled “The Bomb Train Buck Stops With North Dakota.”
Throughout North Dakota, residents have called on the state’s government to prevent future disasters like these, but some leaders say implementing stabilizers could cause more problems.
“Now you have to pipe from every one of these wells or you have to find a way to get it to this centralized location to be refined,” state Agricultural Commissioner Doug Goehring said. “That creates huge problems in itself.”
There is a difference between conditioning and stabilization, said Lynn Helms, the state’s Department of Mineral Resources director.
Oil conditioning is typically done at well sites in North Dakota, he said. The gases are first removed from crude. Then the water and hydrocarbons are removed with a heater treater. The crude oil is then put into a storage tank below atmospheric pressure, which reduces the volatility. Those gases can then be flared or transported to a gas processing plant.
“If crude oil is properly conditioned at the wellsite, it is stable and safe for transportation,” Helms said.
Oil that hasn’t been properly conditioned at the wellsite can be stabilized, Helms said, but that would include an industrial system of pipelines and processing plants.
Valerus, a company based in Houston, manufactures stabilizers for oil companies across the country, including in Texas, West Virginia and Canada. It’s a technology Texas has used at the wellhead for drilling the Eagle Ford shale since the early 2000s, said Bill Bowers, vice president of production equipment at Valerus. Recently, a centralized system with pipelines has been developed to transport the natural gas liquid safely.
“Most of that stabilization takes place at a centralized facility now,” he said. “There could be 100 wells flowing into one facility.”
The Railroad Commission of Texas has one rule that Helms has found regarding stabilization, he said. Rule 3.36 of the Texas Oil and Gas Division states operators shall provide safeguards to protect the general public from the harmful effects of hydrogen sulfide. This can include stabilizing liquid hydrocarbons
.Helms added he could not find any other rule requiring companies to use stabilizers, but the rule had an impact indirectly, Bowers said.
“I think what was happening is these trucking companies, either for regulation or just safety purposes, would not transport the crude if it was not stabilized,” Bowers said.
The process is relatively simple, he added.
“All we are really talking about is heating the crude, getting some of the more volatile compounds to evaporate and leaving the crude less volatile,” Bowers said.
The Industrial Commission has asked for public input on 10 items that could be used to condition oil. Though stabilization is not directly listed, it could be discussed under “other field operation methods to effectively reduce the light hydrocarbons in crude.”
The commission will hear testimony on Tuesday, Sept. 23, at the Department of Mineral Resources’ office in Bismarck. Written comment may be submitted before 5 p.m. Monday, Sept. 22.
New rules in North Dakota would regulate conditioning at well sites.
The hearing was brought on by a study from the North Dakota Petroleum Council and discussions held with U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx and Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz regarding transportation issues.
Installing equipment at the wellhead for conditioning oil takes several weeks, Helms said. Stabilization, on the other hand, could take more than a year to install equipment – if not longer.
Helms said he couldn’t comment on the economic process.
“I do know that a large-scale industrial process would have a big imprint,” Helms said. “It would really exasperate our transportation problems because tens of thousands of barrels of oil would have to be trucked or piped to (a processing plant) and from it.”
Since there is a centralized system in Texas, companies can make a profit off the natural gas liquids. In North Dakota, companies would have to stabilize at the wellhead before pipelines are put in place.
“Given their preference, they won’t buy this equipment,” Bowers said. “They really don’t want to do it.”
There is no pipeline infrastructure to transport natural gas liquids from wellsites, meaning it would have to be trucked or shipped by rail. That could be more dangerous than shipping oil without stabilizing it, Goehring and Helms said.
“By themselves, they are more volatile and more dangerous than the crude oil with them in it,” Helms said. “The logical thing to do is to properly condition them at the wellsite.”
The crude could also shrink in volume, along with profits, Bowers said.
“It seems to me that in the Bakken people are quite happy with the arrangement,” he added. “They don’t believe necessarily that stabilization will change the safety picture.”
Schalow has criticized the Industrial Commission for not acting sooner, stating officials have had 10 years to address the issue.
Goehring said he was made aware of the process recently.
“I don’t believe anybody is withholding information or is aware of anything, nothing diabolical,” Goehring said.
Officials agreed that the process needs to be dealt with on multiple levels, including oversight on railroad safety. Public Service Commissioner Julie Fedorchak outlined a proposal on Thursday for a state-run rail safety program. If approved, the Public Service Commission would hire three staff members for the program.
The commission has been working on the proposal since before the Casselton derailment.
“I share (Schalow’s) concern about having a safe method of transportation, and I think everyone does,” Fedorchak said. “How we get there is the challenge and I think there is a number of different steps. I don’t think there is one solution.”
Many trains carrying Bakken crude travel through Fargo, where Schalow and Democratic Sen. Tim Mathern live.
Mathern follows Schalow’s Facebook page and said he did so out of his concern for transporting oil safely.
“My perspective is that we must preserve and protect our quality of life today and in the future,” Mathern said. “We must be careful that we don’t do kind of a wholesale of colonization of our resources in sending them out. … It’s almost like how do we make sure that we don’t have an industrial waste site as a state?
“In many of our larger cities, we have a section of town that is kind of an industrial waste site. Eventually, someone has to clean that up. Eventually, that is a cost to society, and I am concerned that we don’t let that happen to North Dakota.”
Mathern said safely transporting oil is no longer a western North Dakota or even a state issue; it’s a national issue that must be taken seriously because the oil is being transported throughout the country.
“There is enough responsibility to go around for everybody, including policy makers,” he said. “It’s not just one industry; it’s many industries. It includes the public sector. It includes governors and legislators, and people that are supposed to be attentive to citizens, and to be attentive to the future. We all have responsibility in this.
“This has worldwide consequences. This is an oil find that even affects the balance of power, even politically.”
Mathern said he doesn’t know what Schalow’s motivation is, but it isn’t just Schalow raising the questions.
“I don’t think this is a matter of blaming oil.” Mathern said. “This is a matter of being respectful for our citizens and being a good steward of this resource and a good steward of our future.”
Residents unable to attend the North Dakota Industrial Commission on oil conditioning practices set for 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 23, in Bismarck may submit written comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Comments must be submitted by 5 p.m. CDT on Monday, Sept. 22.
[Editor: Significant quote: “In addition to describing oil train movements, the CSX notice to Virginia officials named contacts within the Jacksonville, Fla., company who oversee hazardous materials shipments; published a number for its emergency call center; and furnished nine pages of general and technical information about crude oil’s makeup, chemical properties, handling, dangers and mitigation measures in the event of a spill…. A red placard bearing the number 1267 is plastered on the side of every oil tanker car for easy identification.” – RS]
CSX’s oil shipping information publicized by government
The disclosure of routes and frequency of oil trains through Virginia was first mandated by the Department of Trasnsportation
By Jeff Sturgeon | The Roanoke Times | June 20, 2014
Between two and five CSX tanker trains loaded with 1 million gallons or more of flammable crude oil cross Virginia’s midsection weekly, taking a west-to-east route to a Yorktown refinery, state records show.
No railroad has previously revealed its oil shipping volumes and routes in the state. But the U.S. Department of Transportation last month told the nation’s railroads that ship flammable Bakken crude oil to notify states of oil-filled trains moving within their borders as a safety precaution, effective this month.
The first notice, received by the Virginia Department of Emergency Management about June 4, was made public Friday in response to a public records request.
The information is supposed to empower local emergency responders to better respond to a future train crash like the derailment that caught fire in Lynchburg almost eight weeks ago.
In disclosing its oil-hauling practices, CSX mapped the route along which it carries oil. The trains, which contain domestically pumped crude oil, appear to enter the state from West Virginia in Alleghany County, pass through or near Covington, and roll east to the Yorktown area, the site of an oil distribution terminal.
The trains traverse 20 counties.
Virginia officials are passing the information to local emergency responders in counties where oil trains pass. Quarterly updates will be shared as well, VDEM said.
The state’s emergency response agency plans to ask CSX to help develop a procedure by which a community holding a special event could ask CSX to modify its train schedules and not ship crude through that community during the event.
A high number of Bakken crude-filled trains in North America have crashed in recent years, leading to enactment of enhanced safety measures. The federal transportation agency issued an emergency order May 7 that directed the nation’s railroads to notify states about all oil trains carrying 1 million gallons or more of crude oil.
A train carrying 1 million gallons of oil would typically be comprised of about 35 tanker cars.
Norfolk Southern Corp. has notified the state it does operate such trains in Virginia.
Just a week before the new rule, a CSX oil train derailed, released oil and caught fire on the bank of the James River in Lynchburg. That train, which came from Chicago, was carrying 3 million gallons of crude oil on its way to Yorktown, VDEM said.
CSX continues to use the route through Lynchburg.
CSX officials asked Virginia officials to not make public the notification. But VDEM released it, saying the same information was available from other public sources.
In addition to describing oil train movements, the CSX notice to Virginia officials named contacts within the Jacksonville, Fla., company who oversee hazardous materials shipments; published a number for its emergency call center; and furnished nine pages of general and technical information about crude oil’s makeup, chemical properties, handling, dangers and mitigation measures in the event of a spill.
A red placard bearing the number 1267 is plastered on the side of every oil tanker car for easy identification.