Category Archives: Keep it in the ground

ALBANY NY: Break Free’ Protest Against Fracking, Bomb Trains

Repost from DeSmogBlog
[Editor:  See also Climate Activists Block Port Of Albany ‘Bomb Trains’ In New York, Popular Resistance.  – RS]

“Whatever God May Bring”: Albany ‘Break Free’ Protest Against Fracking, Bomb Trains

By Zach Roberts • Tuesday, May 17, 2016 – 11:39

On May 14, thousands of people around the world joined together for marches, rallies and civil disobedience against dirty energy. While their specific causes may have ranged from stopping pipelines to preventing crude oil “bomb trains,” the unifying idea was to ‘break free’ from fossil fuels.

According to organizers, 2,000 people attended the Break Free Albany rally that featured speeches from different groups, such as Iris Marie Bloom of Protecting Our Waters.

As one of the final speakers at the rally she spoke about the Pilgrim Pipeline but in general the cause for the action, “We are all here to protect our climate, because the oil bomb trains are bad for climate, Bakken oil extraction is bad for climate… From the beginning — the cradle, the Bakken Shale, the tar sands — to the grave, Philadelphia refineries, other refineries, and the end use… we got to stop it all!”

Moving from Lincoln Park, the rally took to the streets in a planned march to the Port of Albany.

The first stop along the way was a low-income housing development which shared a back yard with a defacto “bomb train” parking lot. According to activists speaking at the protest the oil cars sit and idle for hours within yards of children’s bedrooms. The road that the marchers were standing on and blocking was also an oil transportation route used regularly by trucks to get to and from the port.

Carolyn McLaughlin, president of the Albany Common Council, demanded that people in Washington listen to the marchers:

“We have to make sure the black wall of environmental injustice does not return down here to Ezra Prentice… the people of Ezra Prentice and all along these tracks deserve better, we demand better, we will not take no for an answer.”

Moving parallel to the tracks, the march moved to its final destination, a road crossing that allowed the activists to set up a stage and prevent railroad cars from passing through. Music, dancing and speakers filled the small stage, along with an amplified audio set-up powered by a solar panel.

Finishing out the evening’s speakers was actor and activist James Cromwell who spoke to DeSmog:

“Even though we have a ban on fracking in New York, the governor and the legislators didn’t see fit to ban the use of fracked products. So now what we have is the build-out of hydrofracking infrastructure, pipelines, compressors, metering stations. This commits us for the next 30 to 40 years to fossil fuels. It cannot happen, we will not have a planet.”

Actor James Cromwell is a long-time activist, but it wasn’t until he move to Upstate New York that he got involved in the fight against fracking. In an interview with DeSmog, he called for the Governor of New York to end fracking infrastructure that still runs throughout the state. © 2016 Zach Roberts

To the march organizers’ surprise, the Albany police allowed the activists to stay long past their agreed upon permit — refusing to arrest anyone for occupying the tracks.

So the Break Free organizers decided to try to build an encampment. Immediately they set to work getting rope, tarps and other necessities like cinder blocks to make large tents for people to stay under as the weather forecast called for heavy rain.

The police allowed the now occupiers to build their tents with many warnings that any ‘structure’ would be taken down. 15-minute warnings expanded as organizers negotiated with police — but the police were standing firm.

Joking with one of the cops, I asked: “You’re just waiting until the rain starts to take the tents down… aren’t you?” The officer responded with a smirk, “Whatever God may bring.”

God brought torrential rain and wind.

And then the police swooped in. With activists singing and locking arms, the police aggressively, but with care not to harm anyone, ripped the tarps from their place and hauled them off in vehicles so that they couldn’t be used again.

Activists lock arms to protect the poles that hold up the tent from police. The Albany Police would go around this and just cut the ropes. © 2016 Zach Roberts

Thankfully for the protesters, the rain slowed soon after, and conversation turned to figuring out next steps. After a time debating specifics, it was decided that they would stay and try to make it through the night without tents, laying on the railroad tracks with only cardboard and tarps to cover them from the weather.

By the time I left at 11pm, they were still there, sending out parties to gather supplies of dry clothing, food and whatever else they might need to make it through the night.

Photos from the Albany #BreakFree protest


Within view of the Capitol, climate activists call for a clean energy future — ending fracking, stopping pipelines and much more. © 2016 Zach Roberts


Activists write phone numbers on their arms so they can call for legal support if they are arrested. © 2016 Zach Roberts


Local Albany activists and organizers joined in with the Break Free march, calling for cleaner air in their communities.  © 2016 Zach Roberts


Clara Phillips, an Albany native, was marching for an end to the “bomb trains” that are causing air quality problems in her community. © 2016 Zach Roberts


A banner drop along one of the main highways that run through Albany reads “Health and Safety Matter.” This was just one of several that took place around Albany. © 2016 Zach Roberts


Founder and Director of AVillage, Willie White, speaks to the Break Free marchers in the Ezra Prentice neighborhood. © 2016 Zach Roberts


Co-Founder of Upstate New York Black Lives Matter, Taina Asili, sang a moving song “And We Walk” to the crowd blocking the road in the Ezra Prentice neighborhood. © 2016 Zach Roberts


Willie White leads the march along a road that runs parallel to the railroad tracks that oil train cars often run. © 2016 Zach Roberts


Canada Pacific put up temporary fences to block the protesters from going any further along the tracks, so the protesters decided to use it as a gallery for their posters and banners. © 2016 Zach Roberts


Break Free organizers and protesters begin planning for their night stay on the railroad tracks. © 2016 Zach Roberts


Volunteers risk injury setting up ropes that run across the tracks to lay tarps over to form a tent. © 2016 Zach Roberts


The tents are up – but not for long. High winds later caused the activists to double up some cinderblocks for weights. © 2016 Zach Roberts


Albany Police take the remnants of the tents back to their cars, so that they can’t be used again. © 2016 Zach Roberts


Break Free organizers and activists form a circle in the rain making plans for the rest of the night.  © 2016 Zach Roberts


Albany Police give the activists space as they settle in for a cold wet night. © 2016 Zach Roberts

Please share!

Would Saving A Livable Climate Destroy Buffett’s Fossil Fuel Empire?

Repost from Think Progress – Climate Progress

Would Saving A Livable Climate Destroy Buffett’s Fossil Fuel Empire?

By Joe Romm, March 11, 2016 8:00 AM
BNSF oil train derailment in 2013. CREDIT: BRUCE CRUMMY, AP

Billionaire Warren Buffett has bet the future of his company Berkshire Hathaway on dirty energy. In recent years he has been building a vertically-integrated fossil fuel empire — one that develops, delivers, processes, and burns the most climate-destroying fuels.

The final part of this series on Buffett looks at how BNSF Railways is the engine of his carbon-intensive conglomerate, creating a massive risk for shareholders in this increasingly carbon-constrained world — a risk the “Oracle of Omaha” needs to be far more upfront about.

Is Warren Buffett “The Profiteer” of “Climate Killers”?

When Rolling Stone named Warren Buffett one of its 17 “Climate Killers” in 2010, they called him “The Profiteer.” They zeroed in on his recent purchase of “Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad for $26 billion — the largest acquisition of Buffett’s sto­ried career.”

Why? BNSF is “the nation’s top haul­er of coal, shipping some 300 million tons a year.” That is especially convenient for Buffett because, as noted in Part 2, Berkshire Hathaway Energy has four major utilities that still rely on coal for over half their electricity generation.

CoalValueImage
CREDIT: BNSF

But BNSF is so much more than just the top hauler of coal. As their website proudly attests “BNSF is the largest transporter of crude oil in North America” — and we all know how well the whole crude-by-rail thing has been going.

2015 “has already been the costliest by far for crude train explosions,” BloombergBusiness reported in December. A “BNSF train that derailed and exploded in Illinois” last March “carrying highly explosive crude from North Dakota” created some $5.5 million in damage.

From 2010 through mid-2014, oil shipped by rail in the United States increased from about one million barrels of oil every month to 25 million! At the same time, Canadian imports increased 50-fold, as we’ve reported. BNSF was a driving force behind that explosion.

oil-overtime
CREDIT: EIA DATA

Also, last October we learned about “what is believed to be the largest frac sand unit train to date in North America.” You guessed it: “The 150-car unit train, operated by BNSF, carried 16,500 tons of frac sand used in hydraulic fracturing.”

Warren Buffett Bets Big On The Tar Sands

But wait, there’s more. You may recall from Part 1 that last year, the billionaire spent $240 million buying another chunk of Canadian tar sands giant Suncor, upping his overall bet on the climate-destroying liquid fuel to $1.1 billion — a fact Buffett does not share with shareholders in his list of Berkshire Hathaway’s climate risks.

On top of that, as BNSF’s website also proudly attests, the railroad “is positioned to act as a gateway to the Canadian oil sands.” Seriously.

Indeed several years ago, a BNSF employee magazine explained how invested the railway was in all aspects of tar sands (aka bitumen) development. The key point is that “Before bitumen can move through a pipeline to its destination, it must be blended with diluents (diluting agents),” lighter weight hydrocarbons like natural gasoline or butane:

BNSF has been moving single carloads of diluents from U.S. refineries to the Canadian border…. The inbounds are then interchanged with Canadian railroads, then moved to Edmonton, with the final move to the oil sands’ processing center via pipeline.

Last year, BNSF moved about 9,000 carloads of diluents for the project, with the majority of loads originating from the Gulf Coast, California, and Kansas. This year, about 12,000 carloads are anticipated to move.

There’s more: Beyond shipping diluents, “BNSF has also transported turbines, other large machinery and pipes for use at the drilling sites.”

There’s still more to this empire. In 2015, Buffett “nearly doubled Berkshire’s position in Phillips 66,” one of the country’s leading oil (and gas) refiners and processors. The company has 15 refineries which can refine a total of 2.2 million barrels of crude per day.

In January of this year alone, Buffett spent a staggering $832 million to buy yet more Phillips 66 stock. At more than $5 billion, it is his sixth-largest holding. He now owns 14 percent of the “Number 7” company on the Fortune 500 list.

Phillips 66 is a major co-owner of the Wood River Refinery in Illinois, which in recent years made investments “to expand the capacity to handle the bitumen from the Alberta oil sands by nearly 700%.” Also not coincidentally, for the last year, Phillips 66 has been trying to get California planning commissioners to let it build a 1.3-mile rail spur to its Santa Maria refinery. Why? As the Sierra Club explained last month, “The oil giant seeks to transport tar sands crude from Canada in mile-long trains — each laden with over 2 million gallons of dirty crude.”

Both A Livable Climate And Buffett’s Empire Cannot Thrive

Yes, the Oracle of Omaha has a thing for the Canadian tar sands. But more than that, over the last several years he has built a vertically-integrated fossil fuel empire — one that develops, delivers, processes, and even burns the most carbon-intensive fossil fuels. It would be a brilliant strategy except for two small details.

First, climate science makes clear we have to leave most fossil fuels — and virtually all of the most carbon-intensive — in the ground to avoid global catastrophic warming. Second, over the past 18 months, the leading nations of the world unanimously agreed on a plan whose goal is to do just that, and the overwhelming majority of them made detailed pledges to slow or reverse carbon-intensive growth and replace it with carbon-free growth.

The domestic and international coal market has already collapsed as a result of growing environmental concerns and low-cost alternatives including renewables. If the world follows through on its plans to keep total warming below 2°C — a big “if,” for sure — then coal is going to continue to be squeezed out of the market in the coming decades and oil will almost certainly follow the same fate, peaking in demand by 2030, as I discussed last month.

Now whether or not you believe the world is going to achieve the plan it unanimously embraced in Paris in December, surely Buffett ought to at least mention to his shareholders the risks to Berkshire Hathaway if the world does. Yet, his latest annual letter to shareholders dismisses the risk of climate change.

Here is all Buffett says about the coal risk: “To begin with an obvious threat, BNSF, along with other railroads, is certain to lose significant coal volume over the next decade.” But he quickly dismisses this as a problem that is not “crucial to Berkshire’s long-term well-being.”

Last summer, BNSF executive chairman Matthew K. Rose noted the decline in U.S. coal transport and consumption. He said of his company’s major investment to upgrade its rail service to and from the coal-rich Powder River Basin, “That leaves us with millions of dollars in investment in what will eventually be stranded assets.”

Certainly, from a short-term business perspective, investing in oil-by-rail and tar-sands-by-rail to replace coal-by-rail appears to make sense. But what are the risks those investments will eventually become stranded assets, too? Low oil prices aren’t good for crude-by-rail, as BloombergBusiness explained in December. And aggressive climate action, which could well give us peak demand within 15 years, is not bullish for oil prices.

BNEFoilpeak1-16
CREDIT: BLOOMBERG

Rather than informing shareholders about any of these risks, Buffett asserts the reverse: “Both BHE [Berkshire Hathaway energy] and BNSF have been leaders in pursuing planet-friendly technology.” Seriously?

I discussed in Part 2 how, despite BHE’s own investments in renewables, BHE is working to crush solar energy in Nevada and around the western United States. And it remains a huge user of coal. And as we’ve seen BNSF is a major deliverer of coal….

But here is how Buffett defends the fairly ludicrous claim that BNSF is somehow one of the “leaders in pursuing planet-friendly technology”:

BNSF, like other Class I railroads, uses only a single gallon of diesel fuel to move a ton of freight almost 500 miles. That makes the railroads four times as fuel-efficient as trucks!

Yes, BNSF is a very fuel-efficient way of delivering vast amounts of climate-destroying fuels to market.

Finally, is it only a coincidence that after outperforming the market for decades, the stock of Berkshire Hathaway has actually underperformed the S&P 500 over the last five years?

Again, if serious global climate action ultimately keeps oil prices low and renders much of the tar sands uneconomic, then Buffett’s carefully constructed fossil fuel empire is going to keep suffering — and deservedly so. After all, leading climate activists have been urging major investors to disinvest in fossil fuels for years. Buffett is doing the exact reverse!

BOTTOM LINE: Between Berkshire Hathaway and a livable climate, only one can thrive. That’s not a tough choice, is it?

Please share!

New Oil Train Safety Regs Focus on Accident Response, Not Prevention

Repost from Center for Biological Diversity

CenterForBiolDiv_logoNew Oil Train Safety Regs Focus on Accident Response, Not Prevention

Long Phase-out of Hazardous Cars, Inadequate Speed Limits Leave Communities at Risk of Explosive Derailments

For Immediate Release, December 7, 2015
Contact: Jared Margolis, (802) 310-4054

WASHINGTON— A new transportation bill signed by President Obama includes provisions intended to improve the safety of oil trains, but leaves puncture-prone tank cars in service for years and fails to address the speed, length and weight of trains that experts point to as the leading causes of explosive derailments. The bill upgrades safety features on oil train tank cars and requires railroads to provide emergency responders with real-time information about when and where dangerous oil cargoes are being transported but doesn’t do enough to prevent oil train accidents, which have risen sharply in recent years.

“While these regulations improve our ability to prepare for oil train disasters they do virtually nothing to prevent them from ever occurring in the first place,” said Jared Margolis, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity who focuses on the impacts of energy development on endangered species. “Until we dramatically reduce the speed and length of these bomb trains it’s only a matter of time before the next explosive derailment sends fireballs rolling through one of our communities.”

The new regulations will require all oil train tank cars to include fire-resistant ceramic coatings and protections for protruding top fittings. The final rule issued by federal regulators in May only required oil trains with 35 loaded oil tank cars or 20-car blocks of oil tank cars to implement the new standards, and would not have required the ceramic blankets or top fitting protections for all retrofitted cars.

But experts say even the protective measures included in the new transportation regulations signed into law on Friday will do little to prevent a spill if a train derails at speeds faster than 18 mph, and oil trains are permitted to travel at 40 mph to 50 mph. And the new regulations do not require the phase-out of dangerous puncture-prone tank cars to begin until 2018, and allows them to remain in service until 2029.

“It’s irresponsible to continue to allow these bomb trains to roll through the middle of our communities and across some our most pristine landscapes,” said Margolis. “We need to quit pretending we can make these dangerous trains safe and simply ban them altogether.”

Congress has directed the U.S. Department of Transportation to continue requiring notifications to states of train routes and frequencies so communities can better prepare to respond to train derailments, explosions and oil spills. However, the new regulations do nothing to remedy the track infrastructure problems, or the excessive length and weight of oil trains, cited as leading causes of derailments. Further, it remains unclear whether the public will have access to information about these hazards.

“Keeping information on oil trains from public scrutiny is outrageous, and only serves to protect the corporate interests that care little about the risk to the homes, schools and wild areas that these trains threaten,” said Margolis. “We need to keep these trains off the tracks and keep these dangerous fossil fuels in the ground, rather than keeping the public in the dark.”

Background 

The National Transportation Safety Board has repeatedly found that current tank cars are prone to puncture on impact, spilling oil and often triggering destructive fires and explosions. But federal regulators have ignored the safety board’s official recommendation to stop shipping crude oil in the hazardous tank cars. Recent derailments and explosions have made clear that even the newer tank cars, known as CPC-1232s, are not significantly safer, often puncturing at low speeds.

The recent surge in U.S. and Canadian oil production, much of it from Bakken shale and Alberta tar sands, has led to a more than 4,000 percent increase in crude oil shipped by rail since 2005, primarily in trains with as many as 120 oil cars that are more than 1.5 miles long. The result has been oil spills, destructive fires, and explosions when oil trains have derailed. More oil spilled in train accidents just in 2013 than in the 38 years from 1975 to 2012 combined.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 900,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
Please share!