Category Archives: Keep it in the ground

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.
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    Alberta Canada: Don’t cheer the new premier yet. Demand she break the oil barons’ vice-grip

    Repost from The Guardian
    [Editor:  Significant quote: “…investment in oil and gas creates fewer jobs than practically any other industry. Investment in the clean energy sector, on the other hand, creates 7 to 8 times more work. The oil barons aren’t essential “job creators”; they’re economic suppressers.”  – RS

    Don’t cheer Alberta’s premier yet. Demand she break the oil barons’ vice-grip

    Alberta’s climate plan falls far short of what’s possible: unleashing a green economy that creates hundreds of thousands of jobs and transitions off the tar sands

    By Martin Lukacs, 24 November 2015 14.12 EST, updated 25 November 2015 10.28 EST
    The Syncrude Oil Sands site near to Fort McMurray in Northern Alberta. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

    Alberta’s new climate plan is drawing praise from sources that have rarely got on with the oil-exporter – Al Gore, labour unions and some of North America’s biggest green groups. At first glance, it’s not hard to see why: Alberta is promising an accelerated phase-out of coal, increased funds for renewable energy and impacted workers, and a price on carbon. It’s a major step hard to imagine scarcely a year ago, when the province was still under a multi-decade Conservative reign.

    So why then are the oil barons celebrating? Beaming with pride, the heads of Canada’s biggest tar sands companies flanked Premier Rachel Notley during Sunday’s announcement.

    Their hope: that Alberta’s globally tarred reputation will suddenly be scrubbed clean. Despite the lofty rhetoric, the government has committed only to bringing emissions below today’s levels by 2030 – making it even less ambitious than what Stephen Harper’s federal petro-state offered. This might be what the Premier meant when she promised that new pipelines – which companies desperately need to export tar sands – would soon benefit from “creative lobbying and advocacy efforts.”

    The tar sands now has a glossy new sheen. Alberta’s plan sets a cap on their emissions – an acknowledgement that tar sands will no longer grow infinitely. Except it’s so high as to allow a staggering forty percent increase over the next fifteen years. And if a Conservative government returns to power, could it abandon the policy and ensure nothing is accomplished? In other words, this is a cap big enough to drive a three-story tar sands truck through.

    Here’s the other reason the oil barons are cheering: they know they could be getting squeezed a hell of a lot more. After all, Alberta’s New Democratic Party got elected with a mandate for bold change. Albertans were tired of oil-soaked politicians who let companies vacuum up billions in profit amidst skyrocketing inequality and deteriorating public services. And the oil price crash made clearer than ever before the cost of a boom-and-bust economy built on a single volatile commodity.

    Climate science backs that mandate for rapidly transforming our economy: it tells us that since we’ve delayed for so long, small reforms will no longer suffice. And Albertans understand the scientific reports that the vast majority of fossil fuels need to stay in the ground to avert dangerous climate change – the impacts of which they’ve already experienced in flooded Calgary and a drought-parched countryside. But while good times fueled denial, the ecologically suicidal politics of the establishment could be ignored. When the oil shock hit, they also started looking economically reckless.

    As the oil barons thrash about in a self-induced crisis, this should be the time to part ways with them. Exxon is being investigated in the United States for having discovered the lethal consequences of climate change in the 1970s, then lied about it for decades while doing everything to make this catastrophe a reality. Low oil prices – which don’t look to be going away – have already forced the cancellation of extraction projects and created a thaw in investment throughout Alberta’s oil patch. The cost of renewable energy has dropped at incredible and unexpected speed. And just weeks ago, President Obama rejected the Keystone XL pipeline. It was not, as Premier Notley put it, a “kick in [Alberta’s] teeth.” But you couldn’t pick a better moment to kick the oil barons to the curb.

    None other than the Economist – not exactly a radical menace to big business – has argued that the oil price collapse offers a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to transform a dysfunctional energy system.

    The Alberta government could start by vanquishing the myth that the oil barons are economically indispensable. As the oil industry has thrown almost forty thousand people out of work, they have proved their interests never aligned with Albertans. The facts always told a different story: investment in oil and gas creates fewer jobs than practically any other industry. Investment in the clean energy sector, on the other hand, creates 7 to 8 times more work. The oil barons aren’t essential “job creators”; they’re economic suppressers.

    So why – and this applies equally to Prime Minister Trudeau – fixate on building cross-country pipelines, when you could create more jobs in clean energy? Tackling climate change could be not just a public relations strategy to finesse the exporting of Alberta’s bitumen. It could be a chance to massively boost and transform the economy – making it more healthy, just and humane.

    Look at what Germany – a similar, industrialized nation – has accomplished. In just over a decade, Germany has generated 30 percent of their electricity through renewables and created 400,000 good jobs in clean energy, much of it community-controlled and run by energy cooperatives. Using the right policies, Alberta could make this transition happen even more quickly, with greater benefits for First Nations, workers, and those getting the worst deal in the current economy.

    It’s not too late to seize the historic opportunity. The NDP could still put forward a plan to create 200,000 good, green jobs over the next several years. Reports have laid out how this could happen with targeted investment: in accessible public transit, in energy-saving housing retrofits, in eco-system restoration, and by taking advantage of Alberta’s incredible potential for renewable energy. Nature didn’t make Alberta an oil province. Erect new signs: welcome to solar, wind and geothermal country.

    How should Alberta pay for this transition? By putting their hands on the enormous profits of the industry that created the crisis in the first place. The new carbon tax – and the royalty hike the government must vigorously pursue – should be raised to send a stronger message to the market to jump-start a transition off oil.

    Economists have shown a fair and effective tax would look more like $200 a tonne. $20 or $30 a tonne will not cut it – especially when half of the revenue generated will return as subsidies to oil and gas companies and dirty electricity generators. At this rate, most oil companies will be spending barely $1 more per barrel of oil. Polluters should be paying, not being paid off. The only message this will send the market is to “dig, baby, dig.”

    Rolling out a plan to create a new, cleaner economy that’s more just and prosperous would convince voters there is an alternative to the oil economy. At that point the NDP could initiate a debate on a moratorium on tar sands development that has been called for by a hundred of North America’s top scientists. Scientific studies show we could get all of our electricity from renewables by 2030, not just 30 percent as Alberta now promises; and an economy entirely run by renewables by 2050. When popular movements can build pressure for such a transition, one thing will be sure: oil barons won’t be hand-clasping on the stage – they’ll be howling from the sidelines.

    These movements, with Indigenous communities leading the way, have pushed the Alberta government this far. Now they must push them farther, and faster. It’s not time yet to cheer Alberta’s premier. Demand instead she break the oil barons’ vice-grip on our future.

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      Three derailments are three too many

      Repost from the Winona Post

      Three derailments are three too many

      By Kat Eng, Honor the Earth volunteer, 11/23/2015
      Train derailment, Alma, Wisconsin << CBS Minnesota

      It’s hard to believe Andy Cummings, spokesperson for Canadian Pacific Railway, when he says CP Rail feels it is “absolutely” safe to resume the transportation of oil in the wake of the three derailments last week in Wisconsin.

      The first derailed (BNSF) train hurled 32 cars off the tracks outside of Alma, Wis., pouring more than 18,000 gallons of ethanol into the Mississippi River upstream of Winona. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report notes that ethanol (denatured alcohol) is flammable and toxic to aquatic organisms and human life — and it’s water soluble. Though the EPA and Wisconsin DNR admitted they could not remove the toxic product from the water; site coordinator Andy Maguire claims that since they cannot detect concentrated areas of ethanol, it is not negatively impacting the surrounding aquatic life. This was the third derailment on the Upper Mississippi River Wildlife Refuge in the last nine months, according to the community advocacy group Citizens Acting for Rail Safety (CARS).

      The next day, 13 DOT-111 tankers with upgraded safety features derailed in Watertown, Wis., spilling crude oil and forcing residents to evacuate from properties along the CP tracks. Four days later, another train derailed a mere 400 feet from that spill site.

      Train derailment, Watertown, Wisconsin << fox6now.com

      How can we possibly feel safe with ever-greater amounts of toxic products hurtling down inadequately maintained infrastructure every single day? A report released last week by the Waterkeeper Alliance found that “[s]ince 2008, oil train traffic has increased over 5,000 percent along rail routes … There has also been a surge in the number of oil train derailments, spills, fires, and explosions. More oil was spilled from trains in 2013 than in the previous 40 years combined.”

      Emergency management has become routine rather than remedial. Teams show up, “contain” the spills, replace some track, and the trains roll on. With forecasts that Canadian oil production will expand by 60,000 barrels per day this year, and an additional 90,000 barrels per day in 2016, toxic rail traffic shows no signs of decreasing.

      Energy giant Enbridge has taken this as its cue to size up northern Minnesota and plot pipeline (through Ojibwe tribal lands and the largest wild rice bed in the world) between the North Dakota Bakken oil fields and refineries in Wisconsin and Illinois. Its momentum depends on us puzzling over the false dichotomy of choosing to move oil by pipeline or by rail. At the June 3 Public Utilities Commission hearing, it admitted the proposed Sandpiper/Line 3 pipeline corridor will not alleviate railway congestion but rather potentially reduce “future traffic.” It uses this assumption of unregulated growth to make people today think they have no choice but to sell out the generations of tomorrow.

      Proponents of the line want us to choose our poison: will it be more explosive trains or more explosive trains and leaky pipelines? What if an oil tanker derailed on Huff Street in the middle of rush-hour traffic and we became the next Lac-Mégantic (where an oil train exploded downtown killing 47 people)? What if a hard-to-access pipeline spewed fracked crude oil into the headwaters of the Mississippi River?

      The real harm is in the delusion that we should accept and live with these risks. It is delusional that despite repeated derailments and toxic spills, business should continue as usual. It is delusional to think the oil and rail industry have our communities’ best interests at heart.

      We have the vision, the intelligence, and the technology to choose a way forward that does not compromise our resources for the generations to come. As Winona Laduke says, “I want an elegant transition. I want to walk out of my tepee, an elegant indigenous design, into a Tesla, into an electric car, an elegant western design.” Fossil fuels are history. We need to keep them in the ground and pursue sustainable energy alternatives or risk destroying the water and habitat on which all our lives depend.

       

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        ‘Keep It in the Ground’ Win: Utah Oil and Gas Auction Halted

        Repost from the Center For Biological Diversity
        [Editor: sign their petition .  – RS]

        BLM postpones Utah auction to ‘accommodate’ climate activists

        By Phil Taylor, E and E News, November 17, 2015

        About the CenterThe Bureau of Land Management late last night announced it is postponing today’s scheduled oil and gas lease sale in Salt Lake City to appease activists who are fighting to keep those minerals in the ground.

        BLM had planned to lease up to 37,580 acres scattered around the center of the Beehive State for future oil and gas development, but the agency said it needed more time to “better accommodate the high level of public interest in attending the sale.”

        It marks the first time that the “Keep it in the Ground” climate movement — which seeks to end the sale of federally owned oil, gas and coal — has disrupted a BLM lease auction.

        BLM said it intends to reschedule the sale in the “near future.”

        “As a public agency, we understand the importance of transparency,” said BLM spokeswoman Megan Crandall. “Given the large interest, we chose to postpone the sale and will be working to find the best way to accommodate the public and those who wish to attend and participate in the auction when it is held.”

        It was the third consecutive BLM lease sale to be confronted by climate protesters who believe the burning of federally owned fossil fuels will undermine the nation’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

        Roughly 50 people gathered last week outside BLM’s Colorado headquarters in Lakewood to protest the agency’s sale of 90,000 acres in the Pawnee National Grassland, according to the Western Energy Alliance.

        BLM moved forward with that auction, selling 106 parcels covering 83,534 acres for $5 million.

        Protesters also demonstrated outside a Nov. 3 lease sale in Wyoming.

        Crandall said there was not enough room in BLM’s downtown Salt Lake City auction room to accommodate members of the public who wanted to attend. The room is about 28 feet wide by 60 feet long and also has to accommodate up to 30 bidders and reporters, she said.

        BLM planned to live-stream the auction, but many activists insisted on attending in person, she said.

        The “Keep it in the Ground” campaign is backed by some major environmental groups including the Natural Resources Defense Council and is buoyed in Congress by legislation from Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) that would end new leasing and renewals of nonproducing federal leases for oil, coal and gas.

        The movement is riding the momentum of President Obama’s recent rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline and Royal Dutch Shell PLC’s decision to abandon oil exploration in the Arctic Ocean. It now seeks to stop BLM from leasing fossil fuels in the West and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management from opening the Atlantic Ocean to offshore drilling.

        In Salt Lake City this morning, roughly 40 activists displayed theatrical bidding paddles, held up photos of their grandkids and sang folk songs including John Prine’s “Paradise,” according to Tim Ream, an organizer from WildEarth Guardians who is based in San Francisco and attended this morning’s protest. Organizing groups included WildEarth, the Center for Biological Diversity, Women’s Congress for Future Generations, 350.org, the Rainforest Action Network and Elders Rising for Intergenerational Justice.

        Ream said BLM informed him last week that some members of the public would be turned back from the auction room regardless of whether there was space. This morning’s protest was led primarily by older activists who had no intention of disrupting the sale, he said.

        “They wanted to touch the hearts of those who are selling and buying our public lands,” he said. “They realized two years in prison is too high a price.”

        Ream was referring to the two-year prison sentence handed down in 2011 to activist Tim DeChristopher for his decision to pose as a bidder at a BLM lease sale in Utah in late 2008 and snatch up $1.8 million in leases with no intention of paying for them.

        Vaughn Lovejoy of the group Elders Rising was among those who attended this morning’s rally.

        “We’d like to see if there’s a way to inspire my generation … to spend this piece of our life doing something for the future rather than hanging out on cruise ships or golf courses,” he said.

        Ream said activists will also stage protests at BLM’s upcoming oil and gas lease sales in Reno, Nev., on Dec. 8 and in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 10. “We’re going to keep on hitting every one of these lease sales,” he said.

        The American Petroleum Institute has criticized the movement and Merkley’s legislation as a “political stunt,” warning that halting federal sales of fossil fuels would hike energy costs and hurt the federal government’s coffers.

        The Mineral Leasing Act requires BLM to hold regular oil and gas auctions.

        Kathleen Sgamma, vice president of government and public affairs at the Western Energy Alliance, whose members depend heavily on public lands leasing, said this morning that the Salt Lake City protesters are ignoring how increased production of natural gas has helped the nation transition away from coal that is more harmful to the climate when burned.

        “Apparently, BLM is seeking a larger venue to accommodate the expected crowd of protesters whose goal is to disrupt the sale,” she said. “These same professional protesters bragged that they were traveling to other lease sales to try to disrupt them, but they’re on a fool’s errand.”

        Sgamma noted that Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has rebuffed the “Keep it in the Ground” movement as unrealistic.

        “There are millions of jobs around the country that are dependent on these industries, and you can’t just cut it off overnight,” Jewell said in September during a breakfast organized by The Christian Science Monitor (Greenwire, Sept. 15).

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