Category Archives: Farming

Earth Day: Tell Big Oil to knock it off – plug-and-play tweets and posts

Repost from Stop Fooling California (On Twitter)
[Editor:  Some thoughtful and clever images below.  Repost wherever….  – RS]

Stop Fooling California

April 23, 2015

Stop Fooling CAYesterday we celebrated the 45th anniversary of Earth Day.

And you can’t think of the earth without thinking about the way Big Oil’s business model is based on exploiting resources that belong to us all.

Case in point: Kern County’s depleting oil fields is a symptom of ecological overshooting. And Big Oil adds insult to injury when they contaminate our precious water supply with their toxic waste.
Perhaps actor Ed Begley, Jr., summed it up best, “I don’t understand why when we destroy something created by man we call it vandalism, but when we destroy something created by nature we call it progress.”

This Earth Day let’s tell Big Oil to knock it off – for the sake of every person living here. Find plug-and-play tweets and posts below to help get the word out.

Embedded image permalinkTwitter: #BigOil is contaminating CA’s aquifers. Shut them down #waternotoil #StopFoolingCA  @cleanh2oca pic.twitter.com/rvN1Ye4hOD
Facebook:  Everyday, the oil industry is contaminating California’s aquifers.
#WaterNotOil
Embedded image permalinkTwitter: #BigOil illegally dumps chemical waste in hundreds of unlined pits in #Kern. #WaterNotOil #CAdrought #StopFoolingCA pic.twitter.com/ZiDDiXcY9W
Facebook:  Big Oil illegally dumps chemical waste into hundreds of unlined pits in Kern County. You know, so it can seep back into the ground.Why? How do you dispose of your toxic waste?#WaterNotOil
Embedded image permalinkTwitter: #BigOil’s waste forced farmers 2 pull up crops. Just. Stop it. #WaterNotOil #StopFoolingCA pic.twitter.com/pomWu2PSwg
Facebook:  Mike Hopkins had to pull up his cherry trees in 2013 and filed a lawsuit against the oil companies with injection wells around his orchards.“We’re farmers,” Hopkins said. Pulling up the withered fruit trees “broke our hearts.”
Read about Mike here: http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/3489997-181/california-allowed-oilfield-dumping-into?page=3
Embedded image permalinkTwitter:Of all the ways to waste water, #fracking is definitely the dumbest. http://bit.ly/1DpwYyo #StopFoolingCA #CADrought pic.twitter.com/vvUeOsZdjH
Facebook:
Out of all the ways to waste water in California, oil extraction is possibly the worst and definitely the dumbest.
#StopFoolingCA
Embedded image permalinkTwitter: Looks like an action movie. It’s actually just @BP_Press making “safe” #energy http://lat.ms/1zCsbEQ pic.twitter.com/3FKIwIkKYM
Facebook:  It’s been five years since BP’s Deepwater Horizon exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 people and spilling millions of gallons of crude oil.Yet the risk to the Gulf of Mexico is as high as ever.How’d Big Oil pull that off?http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-0420-smith-bp-20150420-story.html
Embedded image permalinkTwitter: “Toxic chemicals #BigOil pumps into our water a #tradesecret.” -Nobody ever. #StopFoolingCA http://bit.ly/1INhS5H  pic.twitter.com/yMhlCnk6nf
Facebook:  We respect intellectual property. For example, McDonald’s doesn’t need to tell us what’s in its secret sauce (although we know it’s just Thousand Island Dressing, right?).But you know what we can’t respect? Not telling us what toxic chemicals you’re pumping into our water because it’s a ‘trade secret.’ That’s not your water, Big Oil.http://bit.ly/1INhS5H
#ShutThemDown #WaterNotOil #StopFoolingCA
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    In California, Farmers Rely on Oil Wastewater to Weather Drought

    Repost from Newsweek

    In California, Farmers Rely on Oil Wastewater to Weather Drought

    By Zoë Schlanger / April 6, 2015 6:54 AM EDT 
    04_10_CaliWater_01
    Overlooking Chevron’s Kern River oil field with the Sierra Nevada in the background, March 30, 2015. Percy Feinstein/Corbis

    The wet, white noise of gushing water rises above a background track of twangy guitar. Water is tumbling out of a pipe into a holding pond that looks as though it has sat nearly empty for ages, its sandy sides the color of parched desert. It looks like the California of recent headlines: drought so bad the ground is blowing away. Except now, here, in this promotional video for Chevron, there is water. Lots of it.

    “The sound of that water is music to my ears,” David Ansolabehere, the general manager of the Cawelo Water District in Kern County, says in the video, gazing out over the rapidly filling pond. “Chevron is being environmentally conscious, and this is a very beneficial program, and it’s helped a lot of our farmers, helped our district, tremendously.”

    The oil fields of Kern County, where Chevron is the largest producer, pump out more oil than those of any other county in the United States. It also happens to be one of the country’s most prolific agricultural counties, producing over $6 billion in crop value every year. But after three years of strangling drought, all that agriculture is on life support.

    That’s where Chevron comes in. For every barrel of oil Chevron produces in its Kern River oil field, another 10 barrels of salty wastewater come up with it. So Chevron is selling about 500,000 barrels of water per day, or 21 million gallons, back to the Cawelo Water District—the local water district that delivers water to farmers within a seven-mile slice of Kern County—at an undisclosed amount, but “essentially ‘at cost,’” according to Chevron spokesman Cameron Van Ast. In a time when freshwater in the Central Valley is selling at up to 10 times the typical cost, it’s a good deal for farmers.

    The wastewater Chevron is selling flows, without municipal treatment (though the oil products are removed), to 90 local farmers who spread it on their citrus, nut and grape crops. The Cawelo Water District might first mix the wastewater with freshwater, or it might not, depending on what crop the wastewater will be used on—and on how much freshwater is available at the time. In the midst of a drought, there is less freshwater, so the water the farmers get is saltier than in a wet year. But the farmers understand that using the salty wastewater on their crops is an emergency measure. If all goes as planned, when the rains come back the excess salt will be flushed through the soil.

    But it’s a risky dance; over time, high sodium can change the properties of the soil, making it impermeable, unable to take in any more water. Trees would start to get “salt burn.” Their leaves would turn yellow, and yields would decline. Eventually, the soil becomes barren.

    Ansolabehere says the wastewater mixture sent to farmers is rigorously monitored to keep from salting the soil to that degree. It is tested quarterly for salts and boron, he says. “The only reason this program works is because [Chevron’s] production water is of very good quality,” he says. “So maybe we’ll have a little salt buildup. But the next rain will flush it out.”

    But the National Weather Service doesn’t foresee much rain in the immediate future. In fact, drought conditions may “intensify.”

    For local farmers, dwindling water is a noose slowly tightening. Most take relief wherever they can get it, but not Tom Frantz. “I would rather let my trees die” than use the Chevron water, he says. Frantz is a small-time almond farmer who lives about six miles from the oilfields where the wastewater is pumped into mixing basins. His 36 acres are a speck in the shadow of much larger operations; vast orange groves, pistachio trees, rows and rows of almond trees. But Frantz knows farming. He’s been in Kern County, just west of the town Shafter, for all of his 65 years. His grandparents were farmers a few miles away. His parents farmed, too. There’s a generation below him, he says, who look as if they’ll take it up soon.

    In normal years, Frantz depends on groundwater pumped from wells, as well as “surface water,” the water held in municipal reservoirs that flows in frigid streams from the melting snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountains. But with the Sierra snowpack this winter at a paltry 6 percent of its typical heft, there won’t be much to melt. Chevron’s wastewater is an option, but Frantz knows what all farmers know: You can’t grow food with salty water for very long.

    04_10_CaliWater_02
    Irrigation water runs along the dried-up ditch between the rice farms to provide water for the rice fields in Richvale, California, May 1, 2014. Jae C. Hong/AP

    “It’s just not sustainable at all to use salty water, no matter how much you dilute it…. We can farm here a long time, if we’re careful about the salts that we apply,” he says. “I’ve seen the farms that have saltier groundwater, and they have severe difficulties after 50 years. That’s very low levels of salts that’ll do that.”

    Frantz has little confidence in how oil industry wastewater is regulated in his area, and he is concerned by what still isn’t known about the contents of the wastewater. Recently, there was a scandal over news that state oil and gas officials for years let oil companies inject drilling and fracking wastewater into hundreds of wells in protected aquifers. The water was laden with the benzene, a carcinogen, according to a Los Angeles Times investigation. “What it shows me is that we have to look out for ourselves,” Frantz says.

    California doesn’t have statewide regulations for recycling wastewater for agriculture. Instead, nine regional water boards issue permits to local water districts. Once a year, the Cawelo Water District is required to send data about the salt and boron content to the Central Valley Water Board, according to Clay Rodgers, the board’s assistant executive officer. But the district isn’t obligated to test for other components, like heavy metals, arsenic, radioactive materials and chemicals that might be used in the drilling process. Ansolabehere says Cawelo has tested for radioactive elements “a couple of times” over the past 20 years, since “it’s very expensive” to test for, and it isn’t required by the board. Those tests have not turned up any positive results.

    Chevron, for its part, says testing last month showed no heavy metals or chemical toxins were present in the water above maximum allowable levels. The arsenic levels were high, however, but “issues related to the arsenic concentrations in the water were fully addressed in the process of obtaining the permit from the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board,” Chevron said in a statement. “Protection of people and the environment is a core value for Chevron, and we take all necessary steps to ensure the protection of our water resources.”

    The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board came to the conclusion that the high arsenic in the waste water was acceptable because most of the arsenic appeared in models to get “tied up” in the soil as it made its way down to the water table, says Rodgers. In other words, the Board sees no threat of tainting the groundwater with arsenic, because it largely stays in the soil. But no monitoring is in place to see if that arsenic is building up to unsafe levels in the agricultural soils themselves.

    Little to no independent scientific research has been done on this type of water and how it interacts with crops, soil and surrounding bodies of water. Some scientists say there are too many unknowns associated with the wastewater from oilfields. If it is being used on food, and to irrigate land that lies above drinking water aquifers, we need to know more about it, they say—especially in light of the fact that, as Rodgers notes, the Central Valley hopes to expand its use for farm irrigation during the drought.

    “There might not be a single risk out there with this practice. But the biggest risk that we have right now is that we just don’t know,” says Seth Shonkoff, an environmental public health scientist and a visiting scholar at the University of California, Berkeley. “So until we know, we definitely have reason for concern. We know that there are compounds being put down oil and gas wells that you would not want in your food.”

    To Shonkoff’s knowledge, no scientist has ever published a study on what compounds from the oil development process—examples he gives are methanol, biocides and surfactants—might be in oilfield wastewater used on crops. Chevron says these constituents are kept separate from the water delivered to farmers.

    Avner Vengosh, a Duke University geochemist, is serving on an expert panel for the U.S. Geological Survey while it begins to look into the quality of produced oil-field water from Kern County. His data are “only preliminary,” but he has found “high levels of vanadium, chromium and selenium” in the samples of wastewater he has tested (although he was unable to say if the water was produced from Chevron’s operations or another of the many operators in the area). Those levels are consistent with data from oil- and gas-produced water from other basins in the U.S., according to Vengosh.

    Vanadium, a metal, is classified as “possibly carcinogenic” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Certain forms of chromium and selenium, both heavy metals, are associated with myriad health problems, including cancer, from chronic high exposure. Ansolabehere says the Cawelo Water District tested for chromium and selenium once, last year, and found none. It has never tested for vanadium. None of these metals are required to be tested for by the Central Valley Water Board.

    Could the crops be absorbing these metals? The California Department of Food and Agriculture says it doesn’t have the jurisdiction to look. The Central Valley Water Board doesn’t sample crop residues where the water is used, either.

    For Vengosh, what is most worrisome is the possibility that the water is seeping through the farmland into the water table. “It would end up in underlying groundwater. If the groundwater is moving to a drinking water source, you would end up with that in the drinking water eventually,” he says.

    No matter how tough the drought gets, Frantz says, he won’t be taking the Chevron water. “It just doesn’t make sense to ruin something,” he says. “To get through years like this, we have to take some land out of production.”

    But for Roy Pierucci, a farmer who manages a 160-acre pistachio farm that falls within the Cawelo Water District, the unknowns about the Chevron water won’t deter him from using it. If the water contains some as of yet unknown elements, “it would be a risk we’d be willing to take,” he says, without hesitation. He’s been using the Chevron water for 10 years and has never seen a problem with his crops. (Pierucci was featured in the Chevron promotional video, though he wasn’t paid for the appearance—he says he participated because he values what the company does for the water district.)

    “I’ve really never asked what the analysis of the water is. I just know it’s available. There hasn’t been any complaints about it. I don’t think they recommend drinking it,” Pierucci says. “If [the drought] keeps up year after year, I think it would be a concern. I think the salt levels would be higher. They blend it for a reason.”

    The Chevron water is vital to Pierucci’s operation, but it isn’t a game changer. “It’s not going to save us,” he says. Three years of brutal drought have left his pistachio trees teetering on the edge of survival. If the drought persists another two or three years, he says, he’ll have to start ripping out his trees and reducing the number of acres he irrigates. On another property he manages, where there is no pumping well on-site, he imagines he’ll be pulling out trees within a year. “You can’t chase water forever. Sooner or later you’re going to lose.”

    This article has been updated to include a statement from Chevron regarding their internal water testing processes and results, as well as information about arsenic monitoring from the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board.

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      New reports on freight backlogs – railroads accused of oil favoritism

      Repost from The Minneapolis StarTribune

      New reports on backlogs bring renewed criticism of railroads

      By: Tom Meersman and Jim Spencer, October 24, 2014
      Critics say they prove oil favoritism; railroads say numbers are misleading.
      Grain elevators seen from a passing train. With continued delays and backlogs for grain shipments, railroads have been accused of playing favorites. Photo: GLEN STUBBE , Star Tribune

      Farming groups and other businesses blasted railroads for poor service and favoritism Thursday after seeing new reports about backlogs and waiting times for rail cars.

      Rail critics say new data that the federal Surface Transportation Board has begun collecting suggests that the railroads are giving preference to oil shipments, creating long delays for other freight.

      A table from BNSF Railway Co., the region’s dominant railway for grain shipments, reported 747 loaded grain cars that had not moved in more than five days during the week of Oct. 12-18, and only six crude oil cars that had delays of that length.

      Gary Wertish, vice president of the Minnesota Farmers Union, said the numbers confirm what many farmers and grain elevators have witnessed all year: oil trains on the move constantly, and grain trains few and far between.

      “This is the source of our complaints all along,” Wertish said. “Obviously they’re playing favorites with crude oil.”

      The regulators early this month ordered the railroads to assemble and submit weekly reports about their performance, following months of complaints from grain shippers, coal suppliers and utilities, ethanol dealers, taconite processors, and Amtrak executives.

      The businesses have claimed that delays in rail service over the past year have cost them and their customers hundreds of millions of dollars in lost time, late supplies and higher prices.

      In submitting the first reports, railroads cautioned against drawing quick conclusions from the data.

      Canadian Pacific Railway’s president and chief operating officer, Keith Creel, urged regulators in a letter “to step back and consult with all the stakeholders” before continuing the process.

      The federal order “imposes a significant regulatory burden without articulating how providing this information will improve the overall rail supply chain in the United States,” Creel wrote. Canadian Pacific serves Minnesota, North Dakota and other northern states.

      Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota have followed the issue closely, and all three issued statements Thursday. Klobuchar said the railroad data are needed to understand the problems and “guide decisions” that will reduce delays.

      “More transparency in rail operations hardly seems like a tough burden to bear considering what rail shippers in Minnesota are going through,” Franken said.

      Canadian Pacific and other railroads filed the reports with the Surface Transportation Board, which regulates the industry. After months of complaints and several hearings, the Board issued an order on Oct. 8 for large railroads to report performance details each week.

      The reports cover such things as train speeds, dwell times at terminals, weekly cars on line by car type, weekly total number of loaded and empty cars that have not moved in more than 5 days, coal unit train loadings, grain cars by state and cargo, and number of days late for all outstanding grain car orders.

      Bob Zelenka, executive director of the Minnesota Grain and Feed Association, said the report is “unfortunate news” because BNSF pledged weeks ago that it would catch up with its backlogs before harvest, but has not done so.

      “It looks like it’s business as usual,” Zelenka said. “The numbers seem to indicate that for whatever reason, the railroads have an easier time moving oil on this congested system than anything else, and I wonder why.”

      A study last July estimated that transportation problems between March and May cost Minnesota corn, soybean and wheat farmers more than $100 million in increased freight rates, higher storage costs, lost sales and penalties for products not delivered on time.

      Several utilities have also had trouble with delayed and irregular coal deliveries and some have dialed back their power plants and taken other steps to conserve coal stockpiles.

      Xcel Energy’s director of fuel supply operations, Craig Romer, said Xcel’s power plants served by BNSF are far behind in the amount of coal they store on site. “Our inventories are in terrible shape,” he said, referring to Xcel’s large Sherco plant in Minnesota and four other coal-burning plants in Colorado and Texas.

      “In July, August and September, the railroad actually performed worse than it did in the polar vortex in the middle of the winter,” Romer said. The winter rail problems were related to weather, he said, and the summer disruptions were caused by BNSF track maintenance.

      Romer expects regular service to resume when rail construction projects end in a few weeks. “But there’s such a backlog of volume to deliver, it will be several months before they [BNSF] actually turn this thing around,” he said.

      BNSF officials have said repeatedly that the company does not give preference to oil shipments over other commodities, and that the railroad is moving more agricultural products than ever before in the region. In a statement late Thursday, the company said that fewer oil cars have delays because oil is moved mainly in unit trains built for speed and efficiency and headed for a single destination.

      About half of BNSF’s 27,000 rail cars are also used for 110-car unit trains, the statement said, but the other half are on trains that are broken up as they move across the country and put in rail yards where they are mixed with other cars with different cargoes and sent to various destinations.

      “With such a large number of single cars in ag service, the number of cars held [waiting] will always be higher than a commodity traveling almost exclusively in unit trains,” the company said.

      In its report, BNSF also noted that if a rail car is held “for more than 48 hours or even 120 hours, it does not necessarily mean that the car will not be delivered in a timely manner or even within the initial service plan.”

      Because the weekly reporting system is new and needs to be refined, the company said, “we caution against drawing firm conclusions based upon the absolute values reported in BNSF’s report.”

      Staff writer David Shaffer contributed to this report.
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        Rail Logjams Are Putting The Whole US Economic Recovery At Risk

        Repost from Business Insider
        [Editor: Significant quote: “Many experts blame an incomplete recovery from last winter’s freight backlogs, coupled with record crops and rising competition with crude oil tankers for track space amid an economic recovery.”  – RS] 

        Rail Logjams Are Putting The Whole US Economic Recovery At Risk

        Susan Taylor and Solarina Ho, Reuters, Aug. 15, 2014

        TORONTO (Reuters) – More than eight months after an extreme winter began snarling North American rail traffic, a Reuters analysis of industry data shows delays lingering, raising the risk of a second winter of chaos on the rails.

        Across the continent’s seven largest operators, trains ran almost 8 percent slower on average and sat idle at key terminals for nearly three hours longer in the second quarter than a year earlier, data from the main railroads, known as Class 1, show.

        While Canada’s rail operators have nearly recovered, many U.S. operators lag far behind.

        The concerns are sharpest in the U.S. Farm Belt, with lawmakers fearful that the biggest crops on record may be slow to reach markets or could even rot.

        Rail logjams contributed to the economic slowdown early in the year, rippling across corporate America and affecting everything from car makers to ethanol producers.

        Many experts blame an incomplete recovery from last winter’s freight backlogs, coupled with record crops and rising competition with crude oil tankers for track space amid an economic recovery.

        “It’s like a sinking ship – you’re bailing out at one end, but it’s coming in the other end just as fast, if not faster,” said Citigroup Global Markets transportation analyst Christian Wetherbee.

        Performance fell behind as loads grew: between April and June, U.S. rail carload volumes grew 5.4 percent and intermodal traffic, which include shipments partly by rail, rose 8 percent, Association of American Railroads (AAR) data shows.

        At the same time, the industry is producing “tremendous” margins, profit and cash flow, with some companies setting records, said rail analyst Tony Hatch.

        The largest operators plan to spend about 18 to 20 percent of annual revenue this year on new terminals, track, sidings and equipment to help boost capacity and efficiency, according to Thomson Reuters data. That is slightly higher than recent average annual spending.

        Some shippers complain that spending hasn’t been sufficient to meet demand, especially in bad weather. Still, many investment projects are multi-year improvements that can’t quickly fix traffic jams.

        “We’re criticized … because we haven’t put infrastructure in to handle the growth. But then when you try to put infrastructure in, the not-in-my-backyard lobby kicks in and says: We don’t want you here,” Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd Chief Executive Hunter Harrison said on a recent earnings conference call.

        Over the four decades to 2000, the nation’s major track system shrank by about half, in terms of miles of rails, according to the U.S. Federal Highway Administration.

        Although Berkshire Hathaway’s BNSF Railway Co is spending a record $5 billion this year, its performance lagged those of competitors last quarter.  BNSF trains traveled 11 percent slower than year-ago speeds, and stayed at terminals for 18 percent longer.

        Fadi Chamoun, an analyst at BMO Capital Markets, said BNSF is unlikely to recover until mid- to late-2015 due to the amount of work it must do.

        In recent years, BNSF accounted for some 50 percent of the entire rail industry’s volume growth, analysts said. The company says it handles up to 15 percent of U.S. intercity freight.

        BNSF declined to respond to Reuters’ questions about its performance metrics. The Fort Worth, Texas-based railway has said it is working closely with shippers to clear backlogs and adding track, locomotives and crews.

        The other four U.S. Class 1 railroads are CSX Corp, Kansas City Southern, Norfolk Southern Corp and Union Pacific Corp.

        Kansas City Southern and Norfolk Southern did not respond to requests for comment. CSX said it was investing in strategic capacity additions and was adding train crews and locomotives to restore performance and support growth. Union Pacific CEO Jack Koraleski told Reuters that the railroad’s performance has been improving even as volumes have been increasing, adding that it has worked hard to address disruptions and customer issues.

        Cowen & Co analyst Jason Seidl said winter exacerbated problems for the industry. “As they were trying to dig out, the volumes took off,” he said.

        ECONOMIC FALLOUT

        In the United States, more than 40 percent of goods, valued at more than $550 billion, are shipped by railroad each year on some 140,000 miles of track. Canada’s 30,100 miles of track carry half of the country’s export goods.

        Frozen transportation links contributed to a nearly 3 percent contraction in the U.S. economy during the first quarter, the New York Federal Reserve said last week.

        Lawmakers and the $395 billion agricultural industry fear that trains may fail to clear last year’s record-breaking crops in the Midwestern U.S. Farm Belt, which could strand part of this summer’s grain harvest.

        “We’re sounding the alarms right now,” North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp told Reuters. “We believe the 2014 crop could be taken off the fields and there won’t be any place to store it, because of the lack of ability to move product by rail.”

        BNSF and Canada’s CP Rail operate the main rail networks in North Dakota, where farmers vie for space with some 700,000 barrels per day of crude oil shipped by rail from the state’s Bakken Shale.

        “You can’t see these massive increases in crude-by-rail and not appreciate that they are creating problems for moving agricultural products,” Heitkamp said.

        Members of Congress, utility companies, the United States Department of Agriculture and others are asking the U.S. rail regulator, the Surface Transportation Board, for help.

        “With remaining grain in storage due to the backlog, grain elevators in some locations, such as South Dakota and Minnesota, could run out of storage capacity during the upcoming harvest, requiring grain be stored on the ground and running the risk of spoiling. The projected size of the upcoming harvest creates a high potential for loss,” USDA Under Secretary Edward Avalos wrote to the regulator this month.

        Utility Xcel Energy said coal deliveries to a key Midwest facility were behind schedule.

        “When we run out of coal, the plant can’t produce electricity. We are right in the middle of summer when air-conditioning load creates our highest levels of electric demand,” Xcel Chief Executive Ben Fowke wrote in a letter to the STB at the end of July.

        Since an April 10 hearing on rail service, the STB has issued several orders, primarily involving CP and BNSF. The most recent directive, issued in June, required the two railways to publicly file their plans to resolve their backlog on grain orders and provide a weekly update on grain car service. It declined to comment on complaints or its plans.

        Earlier this month, the Canadian government ordered Canadian National Railway Co and CP to further boost regulated grain shipments, in an effort to prevent a repeat of last season’s backlog.

        Recent University of Minnesota data showed that transportation bottlenecks cost the state’s soybean, corn and spring wheat farmers nearly $100 million between March and May.

        United Parcel Service Inc, the world’s largest courier company, said that “very poor” railroad performance last quarter raised its costs. Even passenger service Amtrak has been affected, with some of the trains it runs on Class 1 tracks falling far behind schedule.

        Canada’s biggest rails, CN and CP, operated their trains at speeds 4.7 percent and 3 percent slower in the second quarter than year-ago levels respectively, better than most U.S. rivals.

        CN said its ability to avoid Chicago, a hub notorious for bottlenecks, helped its sector-leading recovery. In 2009, CN bought a rail network that encircles Chicago, the Elgin, Joliet and Eastern Railway Co.

        CHICAGO BLUES

        Chicago’s third-snowiest winter on record severely tangled traffic at a hub that handles one quarter of the nation’s freight-by-rail and has recently become a major conduit for Bakken crude.

        Data from Union Pacific shows its trains idled in Chicago for an average 65 hours in February, around double the typical time for much of 2013.

        Following a severe 1999 blizzard that paralyzed trains for days, government and railroads launched a $3.8 billion plan to improve the Chicago system.

        That’s not a quick solution for the industry’s woes.

        “It takes a long time for new lines and new terminals to get built, and additional locomotives to be delivered and additional crews to be trained,” said Steve Ditmeyer, an adjunct professor at Michigan State University’s Railway Management Program.

        “There’s a time lag that the railroads cannot snap their finger and, all of a sudden, get out of the current problem.”

        (With additional reporting by Joshua Schneyer and Jonathan Leff in New York, and Sagarika Jaisinghani in Bangalore; editing by Joshua Schneyer and Peter Henderson)
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