Tag Archives: Bakken Shale

ThinkProgress report: East Bay cities opposing crude by rail

Repost from ThinkProgress
[Editor: Note huge transport related emissions numbers at end of this story.  – RS]

Battle Begins Over Plan To Send Large Crude Oil Trains Through California Cities

By Emily Atkin, March 26, 2014
CREDIT: Shutterstock

A company’s plan to send massive trains of crude oil through about a dozen heavily populated California communities is starting to hit some roadblocks.

On Tuesday, the City Council of Berkeley, California passed a resolution recommending strong action against Phillips 66, the company that recently filed a project proposal to bring 80-car trains of Canadian or North Dakotan oil to its refinery in Southern California. If approved, that project would have the capacity to transport trains carrying 2 million gallons of crude oil 250 times per year on tracks that are currently used for Amtrak commuter rail, traveling through communities in the Bay Area, Berkeley, and Oakland.

It would be the first time crude oil could travel on trains through the Bay Area, the resolution said.

“A crude train accident could occur anywhere along the transportation corridor,” the resolution states, citing the July derailment of a 72-car freight train carrying Bakken formation crude oil in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec that resulted in a 1.5 million gallon oil spill and the deaths of forty-seven people.

Phillips 66′s proposed project intends to expand its Santa Maria Refinery, which currently processes crude oil that arrives via underground pipe from locations throughout California. But due to the decline in California’s crude oil production, Phillips 66 says it needs to look elsewhere for competitively priced oil. “These could include fields as far away as the Bakken field in North Dakota or Canada,” the company’s project description states.

The company says this would be done by building five sets of parallel tracks to accommodate the 80-car unit trains as often as 250 times per year. It would also build an above-ground pipeline to bring the oil from the trains to the refinery.

The Berkeley City Council’s resolution states that it will file comments in opposition of the project, which is currently before the San Luis Obispo County planning board. The council said it would also work with the city attorney to file “friend of the court” briefs on any lawsuit that challenges the project, and will lobby Congressional representatives at the federal level.

While railroads are generally subject to federal law, the City Council says they can also have an impact by denying land use and other permits if Phillips 66 refuses to mitigate harmful impacts its project might have.

One of those potential harmful impacts is the risk that a train would derail. The National Transportation Safety Board [NTSB] recently made recommendations that crude oil trains stay far away from urban population centers, citing the increasing rate of fiery accidents involving crude oil trains. Many of those accidents involved North Dakota’s Bakken Shale oil — the type Phillips 66 may decide to use — a type of oil which the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has warned could be especially flammable due to either particular properties of the oil or added chemicals from the hydraulic fracturing process used to extract it.

Another potential impact is the amount of greenhouse gases the project would emit, and how it would contribute to climate change. Phillips 66′s environmental impact statement says traveling from the Bakken oil fields to its refinery is a 2,500 mile one-way trip. Phillips 66 estimates that the project would emit 51,728 metric tonnes of CO2 equivalent (MTCO2e) solely from transporting the crude by rail in states that are not California, and 8,646 MTCO2e solely from transporting the crude within California.

Overall, the whole project would emit 65,908 metric tonnes of CO2 equivalent, the company said.

NBC report: If Keystone Pipeline is not built: more oil by rail

Repost from NBC News

What Happens if the Keystone XL Pipeline Isn’t Built?

By Lisa Riordan Seville

After five years, it appears the Obama administration will soon issue a decision on whether to build the long-delayed and controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline, which would cross an environmentally sensitive area of the Great Plains and move nearly a million barrels of oil a day to Gulf Coast refineries.

Backers of the project say it would stimulate the U.S. economy and enhance energy security, stressing that a new pipeline is the cheapest, safest way to transport dirty tar-sands crude from Canada’s booming oil fields to U.S. refineries.

Environmentalists, who earlier this month chained themselves to the White House fence in protest, counter that it would endanger the water supply in several states and exacerbate climate change. They want to stop or slow the exploitation of an energy source the Sierra Club calls “the most toxic fossil fuel on the planet.”

Graphic: TransCanada's Keystone pipelines  

But what happens if, after all the shouting, the pipeline isn’t built? NBC News consulted with experts on both sides of the debate to provide some possible answers about the impact on the environment, the economy and the global oil supply.

“We don’t think there’s any way that the oil will stay in the ground,” said Matt Letourneau, a spokesperson for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy. “Certainly the market will find a way.”

More oil moves by rail. Will more spill?

As oil production has surged in North Dakota’s Bakken region and Alberta’s oil patch, the volume of oil moved by rail has increased exponentially. With the rapid growth of “crude by rail” has come a series of derailments, some involving explosions and one, in Lac Megantic, Que., resulting in nearly 50 fatalities.

The crude from Canada, far less flammable than that from the Bakken, is unlikely to explode. But the tar-like oil does present major cleanup problems if it spills, particularly in water.

Without Keystone XL, more crude will likely move by rail both to Canada’s Atlantic and Pacific coasts and down into the U.S.

Last month the State Department released an environmental impact statement predicting three possible scenarios if the President decides to block the pipeline. All three point to more crude by rail. The oil would either 1) move to Oklahoma by train before being shipped by existing pipelines, 2) ship by rail to British Columbia before being loaded on tankers, or 3) travel directly by rail from Alberta to the Gulf.

In addition to the potential for derailments, shipping oil by rail is more expensive than moving it via pipeline, which could add to the end cost for consumers. Regardless, some companies are already moving forward with rail transport expansion, independent of Keystone’s fate. About 16 different rail terminal projects have been announced in Canada and the U.S., with the potential to move about 1.5 times as much oil as the projected volume for Keystone XL.

So far, rail shipment of Canadian crude isn’t expanding as quickly as expected. A recent analysis by Reuters found rail shipments of Canadian crude to the Gulf Coast were 40,000 barrels per day in 2013, far below industry projections of 200,000 barrels per day by the end of 2013. Statistics obtained by Reuters from Canada’s National Energy Board indicated deliveries to the Gulf Coast may have now reached 57,000 barrels per day, still short of projections.

Image: The proposed termination point for the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project  
Darryl Dyck / AP file 
The Douglas Channel, the proposed termination point for an oil pipeline in the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project at Kitamaat, British Columbia, Canada, Jan. 2012. The fear of oil spills is especially acute in this pristine corner of northwest British Columbia, with its snowcapped mountains and deep ocean inlets.

New Pipelines – But Not in the U.S.

As the Keystone XL project has languished, pipeline companies have proposed a number of other projects to move oil out of Alberta, most of them entirely on Canadian soil.

TransCanada, the company that wants to build Keystone XL, recently took the first step in the approval process for a different pipeline, a massive project that would snake nearly 2,800 miles from Alberta to Eastern Canada. “Energy East” would transport a whopping 1.1 million barrels of crude a day to refineries in Quebec and terminals on the Atlantic coast.

The next largest project, Kinder Morgan’s proposed TransMountain pipeline, would carry about 890,000 barrels a day in the other direction to the coast of British Columbia.

Enbridge, another major Canadian pipeline company, has two projects in the works — the Northern Gateway, which would send 520,000 barrels a day to the coast of British Columbia, and its Line 3 replacement, which could move 760,000 barrels a day from Canada into Wisconsin. Because Line 3 would replace an existing cross-border pipeline, the company argues it would not need the presidential permit that has held up Keystone XL.

If all the projects are approved, more than 4.1 million barrels of oil could flow through Canada by 2018. But the projects could be delayed by opposition from some of Canada’s aboriginal “First Nation” communities. Several proposed routes would cross aboriginal land. Canadian law gives them the leverage to block or redirect the projects, and some groups have already said they intend to fight.

Click here to see a map with all proposed pipelines to the Atlantic, Pacific, Gulf Coast and Great Lakes.

Oil Goes to China

If approved, the alternative pipelines could provide slower, more circuitous routes to America’s Gulf Coast refineries. They could also provide more direct routes to other markets, like those burgeoning in China and India.

Much of the crude that would have been refined in Gulf Coast refineries would have then been shipped to end users in Asia. But cutting out the U.S. middleman could mean more crude going straight to Asia – and new refineries in Asian countries to process it.

The threat of cheap crude slipping through America’s fingers to China has become a key talking point for pipeline advocates. Bill Day, a spokesman for the oil company Valero, which operates a Port Arthur, Tex. refinery that would receive oil via Keystone XL said that this could mean costs to the environment as well as the American economy.

“It’s going to come out of the ground, it’s going to get processed,” said Day. “We think it would probably be better to be processed here under our environmental rules rather than China.”

China’s state-owned companies have already invested heavily in Alberta’s oil sands. In 2012, Asian firms sunk nearly $30 billion in the area. Investments slowed last year after Canada changed some rules governing foreign investment, and after the Chinese companies already on the ground encountered roadblocks building pipelines. But investments are expect to climb again this year.

Image: A protest against the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline  
Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP file 
Demonstrators lie down along Pennsylvania Ave. in front of the White House during a protest against the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline, March 2. The protestors say the pipeline would contribute to global warming.

The Environmentalists Get What They Want – Sort of

Environmentalists want to delay or prevent the pipeline because doing so, they believe, will delay or prevent the extraction of Canadian tar-sands oil, estimated to be the world’s third-largest oil reserve. They’d prefer that the U.S. focus on alternative energies instead of searching for new sources of fossil fuel.

They also have a particular dislike for tar-sands oil, which is dirtier and heavier than other crude. When it spills it sinks in water and is hard to clean up. The Keystone XL pipeline would ship this dirty, heavy oil over one of the largest supplies of underground fresh water in America, Nebraska’s Ogallala Aquifer.

Opponents of Keystone are right, in part, to think that blocking it will slow down production. Without the pipeline, the supply of oil has so far exceeded the oil companies’ capacity to ship it out of land-locked Alberta to its largest market — the U.S.

The glut has driven down prices, making development in the region less attractive. A pipeline would not only make shipping faster and easier, it would lower the cost of transport, making the product still more attractive to customers.

“Industry plans to triple tar sands production over the next 20 years, and they simply will not be able to do it without pipeline capacity,” said Anthony Swift, an attorney with the National Resources Defense Council, a vocal opponent of the project. “We’re seeing projects begin to get cancelled as it becomes apparent that pipelines aren’t coming in as quickly as industry expected.”

But even without the pipeline, and with the cancelled projects, production is rising. A market assessment by Canada’s National Energy Board released in November estimated that Canadian crude production is on track to soar to nearly 6 million barrels per day — thanks in large part to oil coming from the sticky sands that have become the symbol of the debate over the energy future of North America.

Wall Street: Bakken Crude Carries Higher Risks

Repost from Wall Street Journal

Bakken Crude Carries Higher Risks

Data Show Oil From North Dakota, Mostly Carried by Rail, Is More Combustible Than Other Types

Crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale formation contains several times the combustible gases as oil from elsewhere, a Wall Street Journal analysis found, raising new questions about the safety of shipping such crude by rail across the U.S.
Federal investigators are trying to determine whether such vapors are responsible for recent extraordinary explosions of oil-filled railcars, including one that killed several dozen people in Canada last summer.The rapid growth of North Dakota crude-oil production—most of it carried by rail—has been at the heart of the U.S. energy boom. The volatility of the crude, however, raises concerns that more dangerous cargo is moving through the U.S. than previously believed.Neither regulators nor the industry fully has come to terms with what needs to be done to improve safety. But debate still rages over whether railcars need to be strengthened, something the energy industry has resisted.”Given the recent derailments and subsequent reaction of the Bakken crude in those incidents, not enough is known about this crude,” said Sarah Feinberg, chief of staff at the U.S. Transportation Department. “That is why it is imperative that the petroleum industry and other stakeholders work with DOT to share data so we can quickly and accurately assess the risks.”

The Journal analyzed data that had been collected by the Capline Pipeline in Louisiana, which tested crude from 86 locations world-wide for what is known as vapor pressure. Light, sweet oil from the Bakken Shale had a far higher vapor pressure—making it much more likely to throw off combustible gases—than crude from dozens of other locations.

Neither federal law nor industry guidelines require that crude be tested for vapor pressure.  Marathon Petroleum Corp., which operates Capline, declined to elaborate on its operations except to say that crude quality is tested to make sure customers receive what they pay for.

According to the data, oil from North Dakota and the Eagle Ford Shale in Texas had vapor-pressure readings of over 8 pounds per square inch, although Bakken readings reached as high as 9.7 PSI. U.S. refiner Tesoro Corp., a major transporter of Bakken crude to the West Coast, said it regularly has received oil from North Dakota with even more volatile pressure readings—up to 12 PSI.

By comparison, Louisiana Light Sweet from the Gulf of Mexico, had vapor pressure of 3.33 PSI, according to the Capline data.

Federal regulators, who have sought information about vapor pressure and other measures of the flammability and stability of Bakken crude, have said the industry hasn’t provided the data despite pledges to do so.

The industry’s chief lobbying group said it was committed to working with the government but that historically it hadn’t collected the information. The energy industry has resisted the idea that Bakken Shale oil’s high gas level is contributing to oil train explosions, but the American Petroleum Institute is revisiting the question.

David Miller, head of the institute’s standards program, said a panel of experts would develop guidelines for testing crude to ensure it is loaded into railcars with appropriate safety features.

The rapid growth in transporting oil by rail was rocked by several accidents last year. Last summer a train loaded with 72 cars of crude exploded, leveling downtown Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, and killing 47 people. Later in the year, derailed trains exploded in Alabama and North Dakota, sending giant fireballs into the sky.

Most oil moving by rail comes from the Bakken Shale, where crude production has soared to nearly a million barrels daily at the end of last year from about 300,000 barrels a day in 2010.

The rapid growth in Bakken production has far outpaced the installation of pipelines, which traditionally had been relied on to move oil from wells to refineries. Most shale oil from Texas moves through pipelines, but about 70% of Bakken crude travels by train.

Bakken crude actually is a mixture of oil, ethane, propane and other gaseous liquids, which are commingled far more than in conventional crude. Unlike conventional oil, which sometimes looks like black syrup, Bakken crude tends to be very light.

“You can put it in your gas tank and run it,” said Jason Nick, a product manager at testing-instruments company Ametek Inc. “It smells like gasoline.”

Equipment to remove gases from crude before shipping it can be hard to find in the Bakken. Some Bakken wells are flowing so quickly that companies might not be able to separate the gas from the oil, said Lynn Helms, director of North Dakota’s Department of Mineral Resources. “At a really high flow rate, it is just much more difficult to get complete gas separation,” he said.

There also is a financial benefit to leaving gaseous liquids in the oil, because it gives companies more petroleum to sell, according to Harry Giles, the retired head of quality for the U.S. Energy Department’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

The federal government doesn’t spell out who should test crude or how often. Federal regulations simply say that oil must be placed in appropriate railcars.

There are three “packaging groups” for oil, based on the temperatures at which it boils and ignites. But these tests don’t look at how many volatile gases are in the oil, and that is the industry’s challenge, according to Don Ross, senior investigator with the Transportation Safety Board of Canada.

Without clear guidance, some oil producers simply test their crude once and generate a “material safety data sheet” that includes some broad parameters and characteristics.

Much of the oil industry remains resistant to upgrading the 50,000 railcars that are used to carry crude oil, saying it would be too time consuming and expensive. The problem, they argue, isn’t the cargo but a lack of railroad safety.

—Laura Stevens and Tom McGinty contributed to this article.

Yet another derailment – in central Philadelphia

Repost from Philadelphia-based Protecting Our Waters.  Pay close attention to paragraph 2 … “Unlike in previous U.S. explosions, this is a densely-populated area…in close proximity to large institutions, among them Drexel University, the University of Pennsylvania medical complex, including Children’s Hospital; and the University of Pennsylvania.”

A Near Miss from Disaster: Oil Train Derails in Philadelphia

January 20, 2014


Bakken Shale oil train derailed over the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia on January 20th, 2014. Photo: NBC Chicago/SkyForce

Philadelphia’s wake-up call is here. A few months ago, Protecting Our Waters started warning people about the dangers of the fracked oil trains coming to Philadelphia from the Bakken Shale formation out west. We’ve reported on multiple oil train explosions and derailments across North America, one of which, in Lac Megantic, Canada killed 47 people. As of this morning, the threat of an accident here in Philadelphia is no longer hypothetical.

Just after 1 a.m. this morning, seven cars of a 101-car CSX train from Chicago derailed on the Schuylkill Arsenal Railroad bridge over the Schuylkill River. Six were carrying crude oil, and one was carrying sand. ABC 6 Action News and Fox Philadelphia have short videos on the derailment, although the AP story they include incorrectly states that the accident occurred around 1 p.m. The bridge runs just south of the South Street Bridge from University City to Grays Ferry. It also runs over the heavily-trafficked Schuylkill Expressway, which was shut for two hours following the derailment. Unlike in previous U.S. explosions, this is a densely-populated area. It’s also in close proximity to large institutions, among them Drexel University, the University of Pennsylvania medical complex, including Children’s Hospital; and the University of Pennsylvania.

The Schuylkill Arsenal Bridge over the University of Pennsylvania's fields, the Schuylkill Expressway, and the Schuylkill River. From Google Maps

As the trains were carrying oil from out west and following a route we know that the Bakken oil trains take on their way to the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery in South Philadelphia, it’s a safe bet that these were the same trains that have derailed and exploded four times in the last eight months and whose construction and contents are becoming notorious for their safety hazards. Of course, it doesn’t help that the trains were crossing a 100-year-old bridge that now sees two mile-long oil trains each day. Fortunately, none of the cars fell off the bridge, nor have authorities found any leaks. News photos show the cars almost dangling from the narrow two-track bridge, precariously close to falling into the river. As of 9 a.m. this morning, they were still there.

As with pipeline explosions and leaks, it seems like oil train derailments and explosions are becoming business as usual. Also as usual, authorities aren’t sure what may have caused the train to derail. That’s a question that needs to be answered before any more of these trains run. Will it be? That’s partly up to us– and to you.

So Philadelphians, or anyone else living in the path of these “bomb trains”: write and call your elected officials and ask them if they have an evacuation plan for if disaster occurs. Urge them to make sure the trains are stopped to ensure residents’ safety; join our regional letter-writing campaign (contact powinquiries@gmail for fact sheets and more information), and tell your neighbors about the threat chugging right through our backyards.