Category Archives: Alaskan oil

Greenpeace Protesters Block Oil Ship in Portland

Repost from NBC News

Greenpeace Protesters Blocking Oil Ship Rappel Down From Portland Bridge

By M. Alex Johnson, Jul 30 2015, 11:14 pm ET

Greenpeace protesters dangling from a Portland, Oregon, bridge lowered themselves to the Willamette River on Thursday, clearing the way for an oil company icebreaker to continue on its way to the Pacific Ocean and then the Alaskan coast.

The 13 protesters had been hanging from the St. Johns Bridge for almost 40 hours in an attempt to block Royal Dutch Shell’s icebreaker MSV Fennica — which stopped in Portland for repairs Saturday — from returning to sea.

Image: Greenpeace activists hang from Portland bridge
Kayakers gather Thursday as Greenpeace activists hang from the St. Johns Bridge in Portland, Oregon. Don Ryan / AP

After almost two days into the protest, members of the Portland Fire Bureau’s technical rescue rope team built their own rope system Thursday crossing the bridge, Lt. Rich Tyler said Thursday night.

Then, “we ended up lowering ourselves down to where the protesters were,” he said.

The first two protesters the officers reached agreed to lower themselves to a Multnomah County sheriff’s rescue boat in the river below.

The next ones, however, refused, “so we went down to where the ropes were connected and anchored, attached our ropes to their ropes … and lowered them down” without their cooperation, Tyler said.

Once the first three protesters had been removed and the Fennica had enough room to pass — it sailed through right under them — “the rest came down voluntarily,” he said.

Meanwhile, “kayaktivists” in the river tried to block the icebreaker’s path, but crews hooked their kayaks to jet skis and pulled them out of the way. The ship cleared the bridge about 6 p.m. (9 p.m. ET).

The ship’s next confrontation could come in Astoria, Oregon, where it was expected to arrive after 11 p.m. (2 a.m. Friday ET). The Coast Guard said it was prepared to enforce a 500-yard safety zone around the Fennica as it made its way through the Willamette and Columbia rivers Thursday night and Friday.

The protest was a costly one for Greenpeace, which was fined $2,500 for every hour the ship was stalled — eventually reaching $17,500 — after a U.S. district judge in Alaska found the organization in civil contempt.

Related: Activists Hang From Oregon’s St. Johns Bridge to Protest Shell’s Arctic Oil Drilling

And police carted off an undetermined number of protesters and other people in plastic handcuffs, with charges to be determined, probably Friday, police said.

But Mary Nicol, senior Arctic campaigner for Greenpeace USA, said it was worth it.

“We found that the blockade was successful,” Nicol told NBC station KGW of Portland. “Climate change does present a real threat to everyone globally.”

Royal Dutch Shell, which the U.S. Interior Department granted the final two permits it needs to explore for oil in the Arctic, said in a statement Thursday night that with the Fennica on its way to Alaska, “the Transocean Polar Pioneer commenced initial drilling operations” immediately in the Chukchi Sea.

Portland Mayor Charlie Hales said the protest made for a “hard day,” because he opposes drilling in the Arctic but had law-enforcement responsibilities as mayor to carry out.

“It’s time to move from protest to action, to changing the laws,” Hales said Thursday night. “After all, that’s the point of the protest.”

Repost from The Oregonian

Greenpeace protesters claim symbolic victory as Shell Oil ship leaves Portland

By The Oregonian/OregonLive, July 30, 2015 at 8:38 PM, updated July 31, 2015 at 6:33 AM

Just before 6 p.m. Thursday, the controversial icebreaker MSV Fennica threaded through a hole cut by law enforcement in the wall of protesters suspended from the St. Johns Bridge.

For Royal Dutch Shell, the company that will use the ship in oil-drilling operations in the Arctic, the exit marked the end of a week of protests on the Portland bridge and outside the Swan Island dry dock where a gash in the ship’s hull was repaired.

For the 13 Greenpeace USA activists on the bridge and dozens of others in kayaks and canoes on the Willamette River, it marked a disappointing end to a high-risk, high-reward protest.

“It was tough to see the boat go through there, but every second counts,” protester Razz Gormley said Thursday evening. “I consider this a victory.”

Razz Gormley
“It was tough to see the boat go through there,” protester Razz Gormley, 42, of Boulder, Colorado, says. “I considered this a victory.” Molly Young/The Oregonian/OregonLive

Gormley, 42, of Boulder, Colorado, climbed over the railing of the St. Johns Bridge just after 1 a.m. Wednesday and spent the next 40 hours dangling about 100 feet from the bridge’s roadway and 100 feet above the Willamette River.

The 13 suspended protesters and the minders who watched over them from the St. Johns Bridge deck hoped to prevent the Fennica from departing for the Arctic. Their goal was to delay Shell’s ship – hopefully pushing back the difficult work of drilling for oil in the Arctic long enough that the company would lose a year of work. In the time before things thawed next year, protesters hoped for political change in Washington, D.C.

As Gormley was greeted as a hero after rappelling to the water Thursday evening, he explained that even though the protesters lost the battle, they delayed the boat for hours.

Earlier Thursday, a first game of chicken was won by the protesters.

The Fennica headed downriver from Swan Island at about 6 a.m. Within about 300 yards of the St. Johns Bridge, it stopped. Dozens of kayaks and canoes pinched the river channel just in front of the 13 suspended protesters, each linked with arcing ropes between them and with a long colorful streamer trailing behind in the morning wind.

About two hours later, the ship was back at Swan Island.

Just after 2 p.m., officers from the Coast Guard, Portland police, the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office and other Portland-area law enforcement agencies closed the St. Johns Bridge to all traffic and began to direct the river-going protesters toward the shore.

Within two hours, the Coast Guard had closed the Willamette River to all traffic between Swan Island and the Columbia River. They used boat hooks to move the smaller craft from the waterway.

Portland police Sgt. Pete Simpson and Portland fire Lt. Rich Tyler said police and fire teams closed the bridge when each agency had the resources in place to conduct a safe technical 205-foot rope rescue.

A police Special Emergency Response Team officer rappelled over the bridge and cut the lines connecting the protesters dangling from the bridge. Then Portland Fire Bureau technical rescue teams moved in, with some firefighters going over the bridge’s edge and asking the protesters to voluntarily ease themselves down to waiting boats.

The first two protesters came down on their own but the third wouldn’t communicate. Firefighters connected two rope lines to his lines, removed his anchor and lowered him on their attached lines to a boat.

Their work opened a gap just wide enough for the Fennica’s safe passage.

“It was frustrating and heartbreaking,” Philip Fensterer of North Portland said minutes after the ship cleared the bridge and the last protesters.

robertjonahmajure24.jpg
Robert Jonah Majure, 24 | MCSO

As the ship moved toward the Columbia River — and, ultimately, the Pacific Ocean — the remaining protesters quietly slipped off their perches. Each was greeted as a hero on the Willamette’s banks by crowds of protesters whose feelings had traveled during the day from exhilaration to anger to resignation to exhausted thankfulness.

Police initially detained protesters but by late Thursday night said they only made one arrest: 24-year-old Robert Jonah Majure, who police say locked himself to a railroad bridge and is accused of first-degree criminal trespass.

“Everybody’s hearts are broken,” Greenpeace USA spokeswoman Cassady Sharp said Thursday evening. “They’re just getting amazing love and support. That’s what makes us feel encouraged after today.”

— Laura Frazier, Molly Young, Maxine Bernstein and Stuart Tomlinson contributed to this report.

 

 

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    San Francisco Chronicle: Benicia sees cash in crude oil; neighbors see catastrophe

    Repost from The San Francisco Chronicle

    Benicia sees cash in crude oil; neighbors see catastrophe

    By Jaxon Van Derbeken, October 23, 2014
    Ed Ruszel and his family own a woodworking business that fronts the railroad tracks next to the Valero refinery in Benicia where the crude oil would be delivered.
    Ed Ruszel and his family own a woodworking business that fronts the railroad tracks next to the Valero refinery in Benicia where the crude oil would be delivered. | Lea Suzuki / The Chronicle

    A plan to bring tank-car trains filled with crude oil from Canada and North Dakota to a Benicia refinery is pitting the Solano County town against Northern California neighbors who say they will be burdened with the risk of environmental catastrophe.

    Benicia officials must decide whether to approve a draft environmental impact report on a $70million terminal at Valero Corp.’s refinery near Interstate 680, where two 50-car oil trains a day would deliver crude.

    Supporters and the company say California consumers stand to benefit: With no major oil pipelines running to the West Coast and marine transport both costly and potentially hazardous, they say, rail is the best way to keep local gasoline prices low.

    “Right now, that refinery relies on more expensive crude from Alaska,” said Bill Day, spokesman for Valero. “Rail is the quickest, most efficient and safest way of delivery.”

    Benicia’s environmental study weighing the risks of the project, however, has done nothing to assuage critics who say the city is downplaying the dangers of delivering oil by rail.

    Crude from North Dakota shale is extra-volatile, they say, and the city’s environmental report assessed only the chances of a spill along the 69 miles of track from the Sacramento suburbs to Benicia — not the chance of a catastrophic explosion, or the possibility of an accident of any kind along the more than 1,000 additional miles the trains would have to travel to reach the shores of the Carquinez Strait.

    “This project is not in our region — it is outside of our region — but the impacts on the 2.3million people who live here we view as very significant, very troublesome, very disturbing,” said Don Saylor, chairman of the Yolo County Board of Supervisors and vice chairman of the Sacramento Area Council of Governments, which represents 22 cities and six counties through which the oil trains could travel.

    ‘A street fight’

    Benicia itself is divided by the proposed project. Some locals worry about the environmental risks and traffic problems, while others tout the benefits of low-cost crude to Valero — a company that accounts for a quarter of the city’s tax revenue.

    Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson hasn’t taken a stand on the Valero oil-trains terminal, but says, “We need to make sure that just because one industry wants to do something, we don’t ignore the adverse impact to the other businesses and the community.”
    Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson hasn’t taken a stand on the Valero oil-trains terminal, but says, “We need to make sure that just because one industry wants to do something, we don’t ignore the adverse impact to the other businesses and the community.” | Lea Suzuki / The Chronicle

    “This is going to be a street fight,” said oil-train opponent Ed Ruszel, whose family woodworking business fronts the railroad tracks next to the refinery. “They have to come across my driveway every day — we’re at ground zero.”

    The issue is so contentious that the city attorney recently told Mayor Elizabeth Patterson to stop sending out e-mail alerts about city meetings regarding the oil-train project. According to Patterson, the city attorney warned that her activism could open Benicia’s final decision to legal challenge.

    Patterson said she has not taken a stand on the Valero terminal, but that “we need to make sure that just because one industry wants to do something, we don’t ignore the adverse impact to the other businesses and the community.”

    She called City Attorney Heather Mc Laughlin’s warning “a blatant effort to muzzle me.” Mc Laughlin did not respond to a request for comment.

    Canadian disaster

    For Ruszel and other critics of the project, the danger is real. They cite several recent oil-by-rail explosions, including the derailment of a 72-car train that killed 47 people and wiped out much of the town of Lac-Mégantic in Quebec in July 2013.

    The Valero refinery in Benicia wants to build a rail terminal where crude oil could be delivered by trains.
    The Valero refinery in Benicia wants to build a rail terminal where crude oil could be delivered by trains. | Lea Suzuki / The Chronicle

    The Valero-bound trains would pass through Sacramento, Davis and Fairfield, among other cities, en route to Benicia. Those cities have voiced concerns about the terminal, where trains would deliver a total of 2.9million gallons a day of shale oil and tar sands.

    “We have lots of support here from our own local people,” said project critic Marilyn Bardet of Benicia, “but the real difference is that there are so many agencies and people from up rail looking at this problem. We feel exonerated — everybody has chimed in and agreed with us.”

    Not everyone along the rail line is against the idea, however. State Sen. Ted Gaines, a Republican who represents Rocklin (Placer County) and is running for state insurance commissioner, called the project “beneficial environmentally and economically.”

    It “can be done safely given the prevention, preparedness and response measures in place by both Valero and Union Pacific Railroad,” Gaines said.

    Setting precedents

    The Benicia battle will probably be a preview of numerous local fights over oil trains in California. Oil-by-rail shipments jumped from 1million barrels in 2012 to 6.3million barrels in 2013, according to government estimates. By 2016, the state could be awash with 150million rail-shipped barrels of crude a year.

    What Benicia does could influence how future oil-train plans play out. Several cities have called on Benicia to require that all train tanker cars have reinforced walls and be better controlled by new, electronically activated braking systems, and that officials restrict what kind of oil can be shipped to Valero.

    Such efforts, however, could run afoul of federal law that preempts states and local governments from setting standards on rail lines. Valero has already warned city officials that it may “invoke the full scope of federal preemption,” a thinly veiled threat to sue if Benicia imposes too many restrictions.

    Much of the crude that would arrive via train at Valero is expected to come from the Bakken shale formation in North Dakota. Federal transportation officials recently deemed Bakken crude to be an “imminent hazard” because it is far more easily ignitable than more stable grades of crude previously shipped by rail.

    In issuing an alert in May, federal transportation officials warned that oil trains with more than 20 cars are at the highest risk because they are heavier than typical cargo and thus more difficult to control. The federal government is considering requiring additional reinforcement of tanker cars and more robust braking systems.

    The federal alert about the danger of crude by rail comes as accidents have skyrocketed, with nine major explosions nationwide since the start of 2013. Last year alone, trains spilled more than 1million gallons of crude in the United States — 72 percent more than the entire amount spilled in the previous four decades combined, California officials say.

    The consultants who wrote Benicia’s draft environmental impact study concluded that because the type of crude that would be brought to Valero is a trade secret, they could not factor it into their risk assessment. They calculated that a major spill on the 69 miles of track between Roseville (Placer County) and Benicia could be expected roughly once every 111 years.

    Among those who think Benicia needs to take a harder look is state Attorney General Kamala Harris, whose office wrote a letter challenging the environmental impact report this month.

    Harris’ office says the report’s authors assumed that the safest rail cars available would be used, disregarded spills of fewer than 100 gallons in determining the likelihood of accidents and, in looking only as far as Roseville, ignored 125 miles of routes north and east of the Sierra foothills town.

    Some possible routes go through treacherous mountain passes that historically have seen more accidents, say oil-train skeptics. While not specifically mentioning a legal challenge, Harris’ office called Benicia’s study deficient and said it ignored the “serious, potentially catastrophic, impacts” of an accident.

    Not her call

    Valero says Harris can voice all the objections she wants, but that she doesn’t get a say on whether the terminal will be built.

    “This is really the city of Benicia’s decision,” said Day, the company spokesman. The attorney general and others, he said, are “free to file comments” on the environmental report.

    He added that “all the crude oil that Valero ships will be in the newest rail cars, which meet or exceed rail safety specifications.”

    “Rail companies have products moving on the rails every day that are flammable,” Day said. “The overwhelming majority of everything transported gets there safely, on time, with no incidents.”

    Benicia’s City Council now has to decide whether to order to certify the draft study, order it revised or reject it entirely. When that decision comes, Benicia will be getting a lot of out-of-town attention.

    “We have near-unanimity in our region to address the safety issues of the crude-oil shipments by rail,” said Saylor, the Yolo County supervisor. “For us, it has been strictly about public safety. It’s a high-risk operation — we have no choice but to take on this issue.”

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      SF Chronicle: California refiners double volume of oil imported by rail

      Repost from the San Francisco Chronicle

      California refiners double volume of oil imported by rail

      Lynn Doan  |  May 3, 2014

      California, country’s biggest gasoline market, more than doubled the volume of oil it received by train in the first quarter as deliveries from Canada surged.

      The third-largest oil-refining state unloaded 1.41 million barrels in the first quarter, up from 693,457 a year ago, data on the state Energy Commission’s website showed last week. Canadian deliveries made up half the total and were eight times the number of shipments a year earlier. Supplies from New Mexico jumped 71 percent to 173,081 barrels. Those from North Dakota slid 34 percent to 277,046.

      Projects in works

      West Coast refiners including Tesoro Corp. and Valero Energy Corp. are developing projects to bring in more oil by rail from reserves across the middle of the U.S. and Canada to displace more expensive supplies. Crude production in the federal petroleum district that includes California and Alaska, has dropped every year since 2002, while drillers are extracting record volumes from shale in states including North Dakota and Texas.

      The surging flows of domestic oil to California “reflect a continuing improvement in crude-by-rail receiving facilities here,” said David Hackett, president of Stillwater Associates, an energy consultant.

      Rail shipments still account for a small fraction of California’s oil demand. In February, the state imported more than 20 million barrels of crude from abroad, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

      Crude from North Dakota and Canada trades at a discount to Alaska North Slope oil, which rose 36 cents to $107.78 a barrel in early trading on Friday. Western Canada Select, a heavy, sour blend, gained 36 cents to $82.88. North Dakota’s Bakken crude also gained 36 cents to $95.28.

      It costs $9 to $10.50 a barrel to send North Dakota’s Bakken oil by rail to California, according to Tesoro, the West Coast’s largest refiner.

      Series of accidents

      Trains are bringing more oil to California even as projects face more regulatory scrutiny after a series of accidents involving rail cars carrying fuel. The most recent was on Wednesday, when a CSX Corp. crude train derailed in Lynchburg, Va., igniting a fire that led to an evacuation. A derailment in Quebec in July killed 47 people.

      The U.S. Transportation Department is studying changes to shipping oil by rail, and in February railroads agreed to slow such trains in urban areas. Canada ordered a phase-out of older tank cars last month.

      Officials in Benicia said Thursday that they’re delaying until June an environmental report on a rail-offloading complex that Valero has proposed at its refinery in the North Bay city. The San Antonio company originally planned to finish the project by the end of last year.

      Tesoro is six to eight weeks behind schedule in receiving regulatory permits for a rail-to-marine crude trans-loading terminal in Washington state, the company, also based in San Antonio, said Thursday. It now expects to receive the permits late this year or in early 2015, with construction taking about 12 months, Scott Spendlove, the chief financial officer, said on a conference call with analysts.

      Alaskan oil output has declined every year since 2002 as the yield from existing wells shrinks.

      Lynn Doan is a Bloomberg writer.
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