Category Archives: Oil industry lobby

Tar Sands Crude Shipments Quietly Increased In Oregon, With Regulators In the Dark

Repost from Oregon Public Broadcasting

Tar Sands Crude Shipments Quietly Increased In Oregon, With Regulators In the Dark

By Tony Schick, April 4, 2019 4:48 p.m. | Portland, Ore.

If oil is moving through Oregon, it’s Michael Zollitsch’s job to know about it. He oversees the state’s emergency responses to oil spills and other environmental disasters.

But last March, when Bloomberg News reported oil from Canada’s tar sands was rolling through Zenith Energy’s storage facility in Northwest Portland on its way to Asia, it caught him by surprise.

“News to me!!” he wrote to his staff at Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality, and to Richard Franklin, a regional spill coordinator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“Me, too!” Franklin wrote back.

It wasn’t the first time oil spill regulators were in the dark about oil shipments through Oregon, and it wouldn’t be the last.

Documents obtained by OPB under Oregon’s public records law show regulators struggled for months to get straight answers about what kind of oil was moving on trains — dubbed “rolling pipelines” by their critics — through Portland and when.

Tank cars on the train tracks outside of the Zenith Energy oil terminal in Portland also contain a placard warning of toxic inhalation.
Tank cars on the train tracks outside of the Zenith Energy oil terminal in Portland also contain a placard warning of toxic inhalation. Tony Schick/OPB

State officials resorted to tracking ships along the Columbia River and guessing how much oil they might be loading based on the amount of ballast water on board — a far cry from the 24-hour notice Washington facilities send regulators for all oil-by-rail shipments.

When DEQ did learn the chemical makeup of that oil, according to the documents, they discovered a potential risk of toxic inhalation for workers and neighbors of the facility: The oil contains enough hydrogen sulfide that the safety data sheets for the product call for spill responders to wear not just masks but fully supplied air, similar to a scuba tank.

Megan Mastal, a public relations representative for Zenith, which operates 24 facilities in the U.S. and internationally, said in an emailed statement that the company has been up front with regulators and that the oil it handles does not pose any additional hazards.

“Our customers trust us with safe and efficient storage of their critical product,” Mastal said. “Zenith provides services to some of the largest companies in the world and has passed their vigorous inspection and vetting requirements. We are proud of our employees and their dedication to our safety-first culture.”

Oregon Lags

For six years oil trains have been rolling through Oregon — including one in 2016 that derailed and exploded in the Columbia River Gorge. And yet, the government workers charged with preventing and cleaning up oil spills in Oregon remain as in the dark as ever about many of these shipments. That’s largely because of successful industry lobbying efforts and the reluctance of Oregon’s legislature to pass rules already enacted in neighboring states.

While lawmakers have passed bans on offshore oil drilling and fracking — both unlikely prospects in Oregon — they have done relatively little to regulate the real and present danger that oil could spill from trains rumbling through the state.

For the fourth session in a row, the Oregon Legislature is now considering new rules for oil trains. House Bill 2209 would require DEQ oversight of railroad oil spill planning and assesses fees on railroads to help pay for the state’s work.

Already this session, lawmakers have introduced two bills that would match the stronger requirements in Washington — and let them die without so much as a public hearing. Now, with the session in its 12th week, lawmakers are advancing a less restrictive proposal, House Bill 2209, which was developed in collaboration with Union Pacific Railroad and BNSF Railway, among others.

This comes as oil-by-rail shipments out of Canada’s oil sands have been on the rise. Existing businesses in Oregon have quietly shifted operations to handle more of it, even as plans for brand new fossil fuel projects have been rejected up and down the Northwest.

With the loosest rules on the West Coast, environmentalists fear Oregon has become the path of least resistance for an oil that sinks in water and, they say, could devastate iconic fisheries and waterways.

On the Columbia River, a company known as Global Partners LP successfully changed its port lease to allow for heavy crude at its Clatskanie, Oregon, facility. That facility was originally built as a bio-refinery in 2009 with $36 million in green energy loans and tax tax credits from the state.

And on the Willamette River, an oil terminal owned by Zenith Energy in Northwest Portland is under construction to nearly quadruple railcar loading capacity at what used to be an asphalt plant.

“This is really troubling, to see that Oregon’s environmental laws aren’t standing up to oil trains in the way most people would expect. Particularly in the wake of the Mosier oil train disaster. It’s really alarming,” said Dan Serres, conservation director for the Columbia Riverkeeper.

DEQ’s attempts to regulate the Zenith terminal show how ill-informed and ill-prepared the state’s oil spill responders can be under the state’s current regulations for oil by rail.

Regulators In The Dark

At various points throughout 2018, Zenith’s terminal manager informed DEQ that the company was switching away from Canadian crude to a lighter oil, and that it was moving away from crude entirely, according to agency emails.

The company also switched its planned oil spill drill to prepare for diesel instead of tar sands crude — an entirely different type of response.

“He claims that over the next 3 years the facility will primarily be handling diesel and he does not expect any more shipments of the heavy crude oil for some time,” Scott Smith, who regulates the Zenith facility for DEQ, wrote in an email to colleagues.

That didn’t happen.

Zenith continued to handle heavy crude from Canada. Its current construction indicates it is increasing that business.

In an emailed statement, Mastal said Zenith never told DEQ it was shifting operations away from crude oil, only that it was switching the type of crude oil. She also said a large part of the company’s Portland business plan is now attracting renewable fuels.

“There appears to be a misunderstanding of industry terminology as it relates to various grades and types of oil,” Mastal said in the statement.

Records show it took Smith weeks to obtain the chemical data sheets telling him exactly what the terminal was handling, something he usually gets before a new product is being shipped.

“One of the most important things we look at it is, ‘What is the oil or chemical that spilled and its physical and chemical properties?’” Smith later told OPB. “They determine how we respond.”

Those sheets contained another surprise: There’s hydrogen sulfide in the dilbit crude, as the industry refers to diluted bitumen crude from the tar sands.

“I was alarmed to see that the Tar Sands they are working with now require full face air supplied respirators or SCBA’s [self-contained breathing apparatuses],” Smith wrote in an email obtained by OPB. He told fellow regulators at DEQ and the Department of Labor that the tar sands oils had other properties that call for extra precaution.

According to DEQ, the risk of toxic inhalation from hydrogen sulfide significantly reduces the number of potential responders in the event of a spill, because not all of them or trained or equipped for it. That also limits the speed of response, if people need to be evacuated and work in shifts because of limited air supply.

Depending on weather, spilled oil containing hydrogen sulfide could pose an air quality risk to neighbors, according to DEQ.

“Zenith disagrees with the implication there are additional hazards brought on by Dilbit Crude,” wrote Mastal, the Zenith public relations representative in her emailed response to questions.

Mastal said the concentrations of hydrogen sulfide in the crude handled on site are below federal exposure limits for workers. She said the company has emergency equipment and procedures in place, and that Zenith has extensive experience handling heavy crude, including drills in four of the past five years.

After questions from DEQ, the company hired an industrial hygienist to assess the risks from the crude oil it is stores. Zenith has since updated its official spill response plan to account for toxic inhalation risks.

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    Trump appoints another oil industry VIP, recording reveals industry execs celebrating their win

    Repost from Politico
    [Editor: Significant quote: “The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a confirmation hearing Thursday, March 28.”  See and contact committee members here: https://www.energy.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/members  – RS]

    Recording Reveals Oil Industry Execs Laughing at Trump Access

    The tape of a private meeting was made shortly after the lawyer for an influential industry group was tapped for a high-level post at the Department of the Interior.

    By LANCE WILLIAMS, March 23, 2019
    President Donald Trump and acting Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt.
    President Donald Trump and acting Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt. | AP

    Gathered for a private meeting at a beachside RitzCarlton in Southern California, the oil executives were celebrating a colleague’s sudden rise. David Bernhardt, their former lawyer, had been appointed by President Donald Trump to the powerful No. 2 spot at the Department of the Interior.

    Just five months into the Trump era, the energy developers who make up the Independent Petroleum Association of America had already watched the new president order a sweeping overhaul of environmental regulations that were cutting into their bottom lines — rules concerning smog, fracking and endangered species protection.

    Dan Naatz, the association’s political director, told the conference room audience of about 100 executives that Bernhardt’s new role meant their priorities would be heard at the highest levels of Interior.

    “We know him very well, and we have direct access to him, have conversations with him about issues ranging from federal land access to endangered species, to a lot of issues,” Naatz said, according to an hourlong recording of the June 2017 event in Laguna Niguel provided to Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting.

    The recording gives a rare look behind the curtain of an influential oil industry lobbying group that spends more than $1 million per year to push its agenda in Congress and federal regulatory agencies. The previous eight years had been dispiriting for the industry: As IPAA vice president Jeff Eshelman told the group, it had seemed as though the Obama administration and environmental groups had put together “their target list of everything that they wanted done to shut down the oil and gas industry.” But now, the oil executives were almost giddy at the prospect of high-level executive branch access of the sort they hadn’t enjoyed since Dick Cheney, a fellow oilman, was vice president.

    “It’s really a new thing for us,” said Barry Russell, the association’s CEO, boasting of his meetings with Environmental Protection Agency chief at the time, Scott Pruitt, and the then-Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke. “For example, next week I’m invited to the White House to talk about tax code. Last week we were talking to Secretary Pruitt, and in about two weeks we have a meeting with Secretary Zinke. So we have unprecedented access to people that are in these positions who are trying to help us, which is great.”

    In that Ritz-Carlton conference room, Russell also spoke of his ties to Bernhardt, recalling the lawyer’s role as point man on an association legal team set up to challenge federal endangered species rules. “Well, the guy that actually headed up that group is now the No. 2 at Interior,” he said, referring to Bernhardt. “So that’s worked out well.”

    Today, Bernhardt is in line for a promotion: the former oil industry lobbyist has been nominated by Trump to be secretary of the Interior. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a confirmation hearing Thursday, March 28. Bernhardt has been running the department since early January, when Zinke resigned amid an ethics scandal. The post gives Bernhardt influence over regulations affecting energy production on millions of acres of public lands, deciding who gets to develop it, how much they pay and whether they are complying with the law.

    An Interior Department spokeswoman, Faith Vander Voort, said, “Acting Secretary David Bernhardt has had no communication or contact with either Barry Russell or Dan Naatz.” The IPAA executives were not available to comment on this story, a spokeswoman said.

    At the meeting, the association’s leaders distributed a private “regulatory update” memo that detailed environmental laws and rules that it hoped to blunt or overturn. The group ultimately got its way on four of the five high-profile issues that topped its wish list.

    Trump himself was a driving force behind deregulating the energy industry, ordering the government in 2017 to weed out federal rules “that unnecessarily encumber energy production.” In a 2017 order, Zinke called for his deputy secretary—Bernhardt—to make sure the department complied with Trump’s regulatory rollbacks.

    The petroleum association was just one industry group pushing for regulatory relief — the American Petroleum Institute, the U.S. Oil and Gas Association and the Western Energy Alliance also were active. But since IPAA created its wish list, the Interior Department has acceded to nearly all its requests:

    Rescinded fracking rules meant to control water pollution. Frackers pressure-inject water and chemicals into the ground to break up rock and release oil and gas. In 2015, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management moved to minimize water pollution caused by fracking, setting standards for well construction and proper management of fracking fluids. For the first time, the new rule also required frackers to get federal permits, a costly and time-consuming process, the industry complained.

    The IPAA sued, contending the rule was not needed because fracking was already regulated by states. Under Trump, Interior sided with the energy industry, and in 2017 the rule was rescinded.

    Withdrawn rules that limit climate-change causing methane gas releases. An oil strike can release clouds of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. When producers lack the means to capture methane and sell it as natural gas, they either burn it or release it into the air. In 2016, to fight global warming, the BLM issued a rule sharply limiting these practices and imposing a royalty fee on operators who wasted natural gas on public lands.

    IPAA sued, complaining producers would face huge financial losses. Trump’s Interior Department sided with the industry and in 2018 rescinded key provisions of the rule.

    Abandoned environmental restoration of public land damaged by oil development. To offset the harm of oil production, the BLM often required producers to pay for restoration projects as a condition of their permits. This practice of “compensatory mitigation” is used by many government agencies. In 2015, then-President Obama ordered Interior to set a goal of “no net loss for natural resources” when issuing development permits.

    IPAA pushed back hard against the “no net loss” standard, arguing that developers might be saddled with exorbitant mitigation costs. In 2017, Trump himself ordered the repeal of the Obama mitigation rule. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke attacked the concept as Un-American.

    Ended long-standing protections for migratory birds. Every year, millions of migratory birds are killed when they fly into power lines, oil waste pits and other energy development hazards, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says. Since the 1970s, the service has promoted industrial safety practices to protect birds from accidental harm—and has prosecuted and fined energy companies responsible for the deaths of these birds.

    IPAA complained it was unfair to prosecute energy companies engaged in legal activities that unintentionally harmed birds. In 2017, Trump’s Interior Department called a halt to prosecuting companies for the “incidental” deaths of birdlife. Bernhardt played an important role in crafting the legal opinion that gutted these protections, emails obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show.

    “The IPAA’s wish list was granted as asked, in the executive order, and in the actions taken by the Department of the Interior,” said Nada Culver, senior counsel for the Wilderness Society environmental group, who reviewed the document for Reveal. “It pains me to say it.”

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      Western States Petroleum Association Continues to Top California Lobbying Expenses

      Repost from CounterPunch

      Western States Petroleum Association Continues to Top CA Lobbying Expenses

      By Dan Bacher, August 19, 2016

      The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), the most powerful corporate lobbying group in Sacramento, continued to dominate the lobbying spending in Sacramento in the second quarter of 2016.

      “If you can count on anything, it’s WSPA (Western States Petroleum Association) throwing down some serious cash on lobbying,” said Stop Fooling California in their latest newsletter, the Crude Truth. “And this quarter was no exception.”

      At the helm of WSPA is President Catherine Reheis-Boyd, former Chair of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force to create so-called “marine protected areas in Southern California. The “marine protected areas” created under her “leadership” fail to protect the ocean from fracking, offshore oil drilling, oil spills, pollution, military testing, energy projects and all human impacts on the ocean other than sustainable fishing and gathering.

      Reheis-Boyd, who continually pushes for the evisceration of California environmental laws and the expansion of fracking and offshore oil drilling in California, also served on the MLPA Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Forces for the Central Coast, North Central Coast and North Coast.

      The group broke down some alarming Big Oil lobbying figures for the 2015-16 Legislation Session:

      • WSPA ranks #1 among lobbying spenders this session, paying $2.2 million to KP Public Affairs, the top-grossing lobbying firm in California.

      • WSPA has spent over $3 million so far in 2016, and $14 million since January 2015.

      • Overall, the oil lobby has spent nearly $28 million to date in the 2015-16 legislative session.

      “That’s an average of over $50,000 per day since January 1, 2015, and includes the $6.3 million in lobbying expenses reported so far in 2016 (over $1 million per month in 2016),” the group said. “If you’re into math, that translates into Big Oil spending $39 per asthmatic child in California to deny their right to breath clean air.”

      • Chevron has spent $5.5 million so far in the 2015-16 session. Chevron ranks #5 among all lobbyists in the current session. “If there is any doubt that lobbying equals real influence, look no further than SB32, a bill setting a 40 percent emissions reduction target below 1990 levels by 2030, which may be punted into the next legislative session,” the group added.

      For lobbying “its face off,” Stop Fooling California awarded WSPA their latest “Scummy” award.

      WSPA and Big Oil wield their power in five major ways: through (1) lobbying; (2) campaign spending; (3) getting appointed to positions on and influencing regulatory panels; (4) creating Astroturf groups: and (5) working in collaboration with media.

      Powering California: Big Oil teams up with LA Times

      Stop Fooling California’s previous “Scummy” award went to “Powering California” for its new videos praising oil and attacking green energy.

      “You may remember Powering California,” the group said. “It’s a front group of Occidental Petroleum’s spinoff company California Resources Corp. (yes, that’s complicated on purpose), which teamed up with the Los Angeles Times’ ‘content solutions’ team to spread industry propaganda last year.”

      “Powering California is back, now with a series of videos, at the exact time California is debating critical legislation that will determine our climate future, in California and in other states,” Stop Fooling California said.

      As Media Matters for America reported: “Powering California is out with a series of new videos praising oil and attacking clean energy sources. One of the videos baselessly asserts that ‘renewable energy can’t replace oil,’ falsely claims wind energy is ‘expensive,’ and bombastically declares that ‘oil and natural gas are woven into the fabric of America.’ Another video features feel-good man-on-the-street interviews with paid actors touting California’s oil and gas industry.” (http://mediamatters.org/blog/2016/07/25/party-conventions-big-oil-s-media-manipulation-strategy-full-display/211879)

      Consumer Watchdog: Fossil fuel industry has donated $9.8 to Jerry Brown

      Meanwhile, Consumer Watchdog, a Santa Monica-based consumer organization, on August 10 released an alarming report claiming that oil, gas and utilities gave $9.8 million to Governor Jerry Brown and his causes, often within days of winning big favors.

      “The timing of energy industry donations around important legislation and key pro-industry amendments, as well as key regulatory decisions in which Brown personally intervened, raises troubling questions about whether quid pro quos are routine for this administration,” said consumer advocate Liza Tucker, author of the report, in a press release. “While Brown paints himself as a foe of fossil fuels, his Administration promoted reckless oil drilling, burning dirty natural gas to make electricity, and used old hands from industry and government, placed in key regulatory positions, to protect the fossil fuel-reliant energy industry.”

      In spite of its reputation as a green state, California under Governor Jerry Brown is the third biggest oil state in the nation and a promoter of some of the most environmentally devastating policies in the country.

      The Governor is promoting as his legacy the Delta Tunnels/California Water Fix, the most environmentally destructive public works project in California history that poses a huge threat to the ecosystems of the Sacramento, San Joaquin, Klamath and Trinity river systems. As Brown relentlessly pushes the tunnels plan, his administration is overseeing water policies that are driving winter run-Chinook salmon, Delta and longfin smelt and other species closer and closer to extinction.

      Jerry Brown also oversaw the “completion” of faux “marine protected areas” under the privately funded Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative, overseen by the WSPA president and other corporate interests, in December 2012.

      Brown has also promoted carbon trading and REDD policies that pose an enormous threat to Indigenous Peoples around the globe; has done nothing to stop clearcutting of forests by Sierra-Pacific and other timber companies; backs the weakening of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA); presided over record water exports from the Delta in 2011; and oversaw massive fish kills of Sacramento splittail and other species in 2011.

      Brown may spout “green” rhetoric when he flies off to climate conferences and issues proclamations about John Muir Day and Earth Day, but his actions and policies regarding fish, water and the environment are among the worst of any Governor in recent California history. That’s why to anybody familiar with the real record of Governor Jerry Brown, Consumer Watchdog’s “Dirty Hands” report is no surprise.

      Dan Bacher is an environmental journalist in Sacramento. He can be reached at: Dan Bacher danielbacher@fishsniffer.com.

       

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