Three crude oil stories in today’s North American press:
Canadian Town Evacuated After Another Oil Train Derails and Burns
From EcoWatch, by Justin Mikulka, DeSmog, Feb. 07, 2020
Early in the morning of Feb. 6, an oil train derailed and caught fire near Guernsey, Saskatchewan, resulting in the Canadian village’s evacuation. This is the second oil train to derail and burn near Guernsey, following one in December that resulted in a fire and oil spill of 400,000 gallons…. [more, including drone footage]
Canada to impose speed limits on trains carrying dangerous goods after crash
Reuters, by David Ljunggren, Rod Nickel, February 6, 2020
OTTAWA/WINNIPEG, Manitoba – Canada said on Thursday it would impose temporary speed limits on trains hauling dangerous goods after a Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd crude oil train derailed and caught fire.
The accident, which happened in the early hours of Thursday near Guernsey, Saskatchewan, was the second derailment in the area in a span of two months.
Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau said that effective at midnight Friday (0500 GMT), trains hauling more than 20 cars of dangerous goods would be limited to 25 mph across the country for the next 30 days.
The limit in urban areas will be 20 mph, he told reporters…. [more]
Whiting proposes expansion of oil conditioning facility
Whiting Oil and Gas plans to expand an oil conditioning facility in Mountrail County to accommodate climbing production. The expanded facility would handle up to 65,000 barrels per day of oil, a 20,000-barrel increase over its current capacity, according to an application Whiting filed with the PSC. The oil, once conditioned, would then be taken by pipeline to market.
…Oil production statewide has climbed to 1.52 million barrels per day, 140,000 barrels higher than a year ago.
…Oil typically undergoes a conditioning process as soon as it’s extracted from underground, said Katie Haarsager, a spokeswoman for the North Dakota Oil and Gas Division. It’s often sent through a heater-treater, which separates the oil from natural gas and saltwater.
The oil must be processed so that its vapor pressure level does not exceed 13.7 psi before it can be transported by pipeline, train or truck. North Dakota’s limit of 13.7 psi is based on a national standard for stable crude of 14.7 psi and builds in 1 psi as a margin of error. That limit has been the subject of controversy from environmentalists and rail safety advocates following fiery oil train derailments. [more]
Crude-by-rail has rebounded across U.S. as production has outstripped pipeline capacity
2 Feb 2019, By Rebecca Elliott and Paul Ziobro, The Wall Street Journal
The use of trains to carry crude is surging after dropping in recent years amid concerns about safety, as drillers in parts of North America produce more oil than area pipelines can accommodate.
An average of 718,000 barrels of crude a day traversed America’s railways as of October, the latest data available, an 88% increase from a year earlier, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That compares with a peak average of about 1.1 million barrels in October 2014.
Much of the recent oil train growth is due to record shipments from Canada, where pipeline expansion projects, including Keystone XL and Trans Mountain, have stalled amid environmental opposition and legal delays. Crude-by-rail shipments also have ticked up from North Dakota’s Bakken region and the Permian Basin of West Texas and New Mexico, according to energy-monitoring firm Genscape Inc.
The crude-by-rail comeback is expected to last through late this year in the Permian, and longer in North Dakota and Canada, as companies struggle to lay new pipe as quickly as drillers are getting oil out of the ground.
Shipping oil by train is more expensive than sending it through a pipeline, so producers often avoid making longterm commitments to rail companies. It costs about $20 a barrel to send oil by rail from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast, compared with about $12.50 by pipeline, according to energy investment bank Tudor Pickering Holt & Co.
But pipeline projects typically lag behind growth in oil and gas production, and the gap has lengthened in many parts of the country in recent years as local activism has made it increasingly difficult to complete projects. Meantime, North American oil production topped 15.6 million barrels daily in August, a 17% annual increase, according to the EIA.
Bottlenecks have grown particularly severe in Canada. Heavy crude there was selling locally for more than $50 a barrel below U.S. benchmark prices last fall, reflecting producers’ inability to get it to market due to pipeline problems. U.S. oil prices have since fallen about 24%, closing at $54.23 a barrel on Wednesday.
The congestion in Canada spurred companies including Houston-based ConocoPhillips and Calgary-based Cenovus Energy Inc. to ink rail deals.
“The intention is to bridge us over to the next major pipeline expansion, so a few years,” ConocoPhillips finance chief Don Wallette, Jr. said last fall.
Cenovus’s three-year agreements will allow it to transport about 100,000 barrels of oil daily to the U.S. Gulf Coast, where refiners mix it with lighter crudes to produce fuel.
In October, about half of the oil the U.S. imported by rail from its northern neighbor went to the Gulf Coast, EIA data show, helping to offset a 30% decline in crude purchases from Venezuela over the past two years. Roughly a quarter went to the Midwest, while smaller amounts went to the East and West coasts.
Derailments, notably one in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, that killed 47 people in 2013, have raised concerns about the safety of transporting oil by trains on a large scale. That prompted federal regulators to impose tougher safety requirements for railcars, though opposition remains in some communities.
The heightened demand for oil train transportation has benefited railroads including Union Pacific Corp., whose petroleum shipments rose 30% last year to 228,470 carloads as the company handled more crude oil. But Chief Executive Lance Fritz said the Omaha, Neb.-based railroad isn’t investing heavily to support crude-by-rail shipping because the demand could evaporate once major pipeline projects come online. “We’re careful to make these commitments because it’s a short-lived phenomenon,” Mr. Fritz said in a recent interview. “It’s just not going to be around for long-term returns.”
Since shipping oil by rail is generally more expensive, pipelines remain a more attractive option when available, analysts say. “People would love to have the optionality to move onto crude by rail whenever they want to, but nobody wants to be signing a check for it,” RBN Energy analyst John Zanner said.
Mr. Zanner said because of limited supply of railcars and other infrastructure he doesn’t expect oil train shipments from Canada to increase significantly as a result of U.S. sanctions on Venezuela’s state-owned oil company.
Oil companies often use trains on an ad hoc basis, and rail provides geographic and financial alternatives for producers wary of committing to new pipes. Pipeline companies typically won’t proceed with a project unless drillers sign multiyear contracts guaranteeing payment regardless of whether they have oil to ship.
Whiting Petroleum Corp. is weighing those trade-offs in North Dakota, where it is evaluating whether to support an additional pipeline or rely on costlier, but more flexible, crude-by-rail transportation. Crude production in the state, once the heart of oil-train transportation, has swelled about 38% since the Dakota Access Pipeline opened in 2017, federal data show, testing the limits of existing pipelines.
In November, oil sold in Minnesota fetched as much as $19 a barrel less than it would have at the main U.S. trading hub in Cushing, Okla., reflecting the bottleneck, according to price reporting agency S&P Global Platts. “You’re always balancing between getting the infrastructure in place versus flexibility,” said Peter Hagist, a senior vice president for Whiting.
Repost from Reuters [Quote: “Increased crude shipping by rail…would represent progress in moving more Canadian oil to U.S. refineries.” ]
Cenovus inks deal to move more crude on Canadian National Railway -source
by Julie Gordon, Rod Nickel, September 7, 2018 / 11:18 AM
VANCOUVER/WINNIPEG (Reuters) – Cenovus Energy Inc (CVE.TO), a major Canadian oil producer, has signed a deal to move more crude with the Canadian National Railway Co (CNR.TO), a source with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters.
The deal is one of many being quietly signed that, along with the expedited deliveries of new locomotives, will help boost Canada’s crude-by-rail shipments 50 percent by year end, a government consultant told Reuters separately.
The source said the Cenovus-CN deal was inked days before a Canadian court last week overturned the approval of the Trans Mountain oil pipeline expansion.
Shipper commitments put CN and smaller rival Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd (CP.TO) in position to collectively move more than 300,000 barrels per day by December, said Greg Stringham, a consultant who mediated talks among oil producers and railways for the Alberta government this year.
Stringham did not directly address the Cenovus deal, but said new crude-by-rail “contracts are being signed. Not all of those been disclosed yet, but it is continuing.”
The railways, burned a few years ago when booming demand for crude-by-rail vanished as oil prices fell and pipeline space opened, are now seeking rich multi-year, take-or-pay deals from producers.The 300,000 bpd would be 50 percent higher than June’s record 200,000 bpd and double 150,000 bpd achieved in December 2017. It is expected to further increase in 2019 as locomotive orders start to catch up with demand.
The two railways and Cenovus declined to comment. The source declined to be identified as the deal is not public.
Cenovus CEO Alex Pourbaix said in July that he was considering a multi-year commitment to move 50,000 to 60,000 bpd by rail.
Cenovus shares rebounded to trade up as much as 0.86 percent soon after the news. Earlier in the day, they had fallen 6.4 percent after Goldman Sachs downgraded the stock to sell.
CN shares were down 0.5 percent.
Increased crude shipping by rail, while still far short of Western Canada’s rail-loading capacity of nearly 1 million bpd, would represent progress in moving more Canadian oil to U.S. refineries. It remains a tiny fraction of the total 3.3 million bpd on average exported, mostly to the U.S., in 2017.
But as crude shipments increase, so do safety concerns. In 2013, a runaway train carrying crude exploded in the Quebec town of Lac Megantic killing 47 people. In June, some 230,000 gallons of crude spilled into an Iowa river after a train derailed.
The head of Canada’s transportation regulator said last month that stronger tank cars for transporting flammable liquids should be required sooner than a 2025 deadline.
Enbridge Inc’s (ENB.TO) oversubscribed Mainline pipeline rations space each month as oil producers expand production, driving a bigger discount in Western Canada’s heavy crude compared to the North American benchmark CLc1.
The increased crude by rail volumes could not happen without new locomotives that the railways are placing into service faster than before.
“Probably the biggest constraint that was identified was the lack of locomotives being available,” said Stringham, adding that the railways went to their suppliers and were able to cut delivery times from 24 months down to nine to 12 months. CN said on Wednesday that it had ordered an extra 60 locomotives from General Electric Co (GE.N), adding to a previous deal for 200 locomotives over three years. The original order will now be completed in two years, and the additional 60 are due in 2020, CN spokesman Patrick Waldron said. Those locomotives will be used for energy transport, along with intermodal, coal and agricultural products. Western Canada’s crude inventories reached 36.3 million barrels for the week ending Aug. 31, a record level since Genscape began monitoring in 2010 as oil production expands faster than transport capacity, analyst Dylan White said.
Reporting by Julie Gordon in Vancouver, Rod Nickel in Winnipeg; additional reporting by Allison Lampert in Montreal; Editing by Denny Thomas and David Gregorio
Mayors urge governor to end fossil fuel production in California
By Elizabeth Patterson and Melvin Willis, Aug. 24, 2018 3:31 p.m.
As San Francisco prepares to host Gov. Jerry Brown’s historic Global Climate Action Summit in September, we, the San Francisco Bay Area mayors of cities impacted by the toxic consequences of fossil fuel production, are standing with elected representatives from frontline communities and throughout California in calling on the governor to phase out fossil fuel production.
Benicia and Richmond both face the toxic consequences of California’s complicity in one of the most toxic, polluting, dangerous industries on Earth and the primary driver of climate change: the oil and gas industry.
Benicia is home to the Valero oil refinery, and our residents are regularly exposed to emissions during standard operations. In May 2017, a power outage sent flames, heavy black smoke and toxic gases spewing into the air for two straight weeks. Among the pollutants were nearly 80,000 pounds of toxic sulfur dioxide — five years’ worth of “normal” emissions — and carbonyl sulfide, a highly toxic and extremely flammable gas. Accidents are only the most visible of the toxic pollution that impacts our public health, day after day. Our asthma rates are three times the state average.
The Texas-based petroleum giant’s Benicia refinery employs 480 people and supplies nearly a quarter of our city’s tax revenue, but at what cost?
When Valero proposed a crude-by-rail project to bring 70,000 barrels of tar sands and Bakken crude oil per day by rail through the Sierra, Sacramento and Davis to Benicia, our residents resisted, and our small, historic town stood up to our biggest employer and taxpayer. After three years of environmental review, national attention and a failed effort by Valero to get the federal government involved, the City Council voted unanimously against it.
Farther south on San Francisco Bay is Richmond, one of the poorest communities in the Bay Area. Our city of largely Hispanic, African American and Asian residents fought against toxic industrial pollution from Chevron’s Richmond refinery that processes 250,000 barrels of crude oil daily. Chevron is our largest employer and taxpayer. Nonetheless, our community has risen up, defeating Chevron-backed candidates in 2014 that outspent us 5 to 1 in our local election, and elected true champions for our community. Richmond forced major environmental conditions on Chevron as it expands the refinery and strengthened our Industrial Safety Ordinance in response to the refinery’s toxic explosion and fire in 2012 that sent 15,000 residents to seek medical treatment.
Toxic pollution isn’t the only threat we face. With 32 miles of shoreline, more than any other city on San Francisco Bay, Richmond is at extreme risk from sea level rise that will soon cost our community far more than we can afford. So, Richmond, home to an oil giant, became the ninth city in less than a year to bring major fossil fuel companies to court over climate change. We filed a lawsuit against 29 oil, gas and coal companies — including Chevron, along with BP and Exxon — to hold them accountable for their role in climate change and its impacts on the community.
The fossil fuel industry’s business plan is destroying not only our health and communities, but also the survival of our species.
Yet, under Gov. Jerry Brown, the state of California has not only tolerated the fossil fuel industry, but expanded it — granting permits for drilling 20,000 new oil wells.
The Bay Area has had enough of this climate hypocrisy. It is wrong to make communities sick. As one of the top oil-producing states, it is time to bring the fossil fuel era to an end.
While our small towns have the courage to stand up to a billion-dollar fossil fuel industry to protect our public health and climate, why hasn’t Brown?
On the toxic front lines of climate change, we stand with 150 local elected officials from a majority of counties in California that are taking bold steps to stop fossil fuels. We all are urging Brown to make a plan to phase out oil and gas production in California, to clean up our cities, towns and agricultural lands, and protect our people.
If our cities can say “no” to expanding fossil fuels, Gov. Brown, you can, too — and we’ll have your back.
Elizabeth Patterson is mayor of Benicia. Melvin Willis is vice mayor of Richmond.