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Fri, 2012-04-20 16:40Ben Jervey
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Must Read Muckrake on the Whistleblower Behind the Enbridge Tar Sands Pipeline Spill


On a midsummer evening in July of 2010, heavy crude started gushing from a 30-inch pipeline into Talmadge Creek, near Marshall, Michigan. By the next morning, heavy globs of oil soon were coating the Kalamazoo River, into which the Talmadge flows, and the stench of petroleum filled the air.

Enbridge, the Canadian company that owns and operates the ruptured pipeline 6B, made a lot of mistakes in the hours after the first gallons spilled. The disaster didn’t have to be so bad. Records of the official responses showed, for instance, that the company didn’t send someone to the site until the next morning. And that the Enbridge pipeline controllers increased pressure to the line, on a hunch that the funky signals they were getting was from a bubble, and not a spill.

When all was said and done, an estimated 1 million gallons of tar sands crude had leaked into the Kalamazoo River – ranked by the EPA as the largest spill in Midwestern history – with some oil flowing a full 40 miles down the river towards Lake Michigan.

Though the company that owns the pipeline, Enbridge, tried to deny it, the oil was soon revealed to be diluted bitumen (or DilBit), a form of tar sands crude that is thick and abrasive and can only be pumped through pipelines at enormously high pressure. DitBit is also, it turns out, much harder to clean up than regular old dirty crude. And that – the clean up – is where the story gets really complicated.

This week, OnEarth.org (where I’m also a blogger), published an incredible 3-part series about the Enbridge spill, the egregious mishandling of clean up efforts, and Enbridge’s deliberate cover-up of its shoddy, cheap, and reckless work. Written by Ted Genoways, who spent weeks on the ground in Michigan and accumulated over 100 hours of interviews, the piece is the sort of long form, old-fashioned, exhaustive muckraking that you don’t see nearly enough of these days.

Tue, 2012-04-10 05:45Ben Jervey
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Tar Sands in the United States: What You Need to Know

Think that that dirtiest oil on the planet is only found up in Alberta? You might be surprised then to hear that there are tar sands deposits in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, much of which are on public lands.

While none of the American tar sands deposits are actively being developed yet, energy companies are frantically working to raise funds, secure approvals, and start extracting.

To help you better understand the state of tar sands development in the U.S., here’s a primer.  

Where are the American tar sands?

The Bureau of Land Management estimates that there are between 12-19 billion barrels of tar sands oil, mostly in Eastern Utah, though not all of that would be recoverable.

This map from the Utah Geologic Survey shows all of the state’s tar sands.

Wed, 2012-04-04 14:11Ben Jervey
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Young Americans Sue Government to Stop Global Warming, Polluter Interests Granted Intervention To Defend

Last May, a group of young Americans, fed up with government inaction on climate change, decided to sue to protect their future. The group, led by 16-year old Alec Loorz, founder of Kids vs. Global Warming and the iMatter campaign, filed legal actions against the federal government and 49 states, seeking to force the states and federal government to develop a comprehensive plan to reduce greenhouse gas pollution to levels deemed necessary by the best available science.

Earlier today, a D.C. District Court judge ruled that the National Association of Manufacturers and other polluter interests can intervene on the government's behalf to argue that they have the right to keep on dumping carbon pollution into the atmosphere.

So the case is sure to prove controversial and the world will be watching to see how the courts handle the matter in the weeks and months to come.

As Loorz, now 17, explained to me last week, the decision to sue the government came only after seeing the failures of the Executive and Legislative branches in addressing the problem.

Fri, 2012-03-23 13:55Ben Jervey
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Look to Canada for Proof that Neither Presidents Nor Pro-Drilling Policies Control Gas Prices

Another Spring, another round of totally uninformed and illogical arguments about gas prices.

You could be forgiven if you’re feeling some deja vu. As conservatives and Congressional Republicans scramble to blame the president for rising gas prices, you might have the feeling that we’ve been here before.

Oh, that’s right. It was just last year (almost exactly a year ago, actually) that prices were pushing towards $4 per gallon, and everyone from Sarah Palin (in a ludicrously misguided and ill-informed Facebook rant) to Speaker Boehner were misplacing blame for pump prices.

Anyone who takes the time to actually look into it can pretty easily learn that the president alone can’t do much about rising gas prices, through expanded drilling or approving pipelines or whatever else.

The AP just ran a definitive piece that looked at 36 years of data, and found “no statistical correlation between how much oil comes out of U.S. wells and the price at the pump.”

And here are twenty experts from across the political spectrum (including the staunchly conservative American Enterprise Institute and the Cato Institute) stating clearly that domestic drilling has no real effect on gas prices.

A full 92% of economists surveyed replied that gas prices are set by external market forces, and not domestic policies. Even Fox News reported in 2008 that “no President has the power to increase or to lower gas prices.”

Still, the disinformation flies, and so I’ll throw another fact-based argument in the mix. You want more proof that we can’t drill or pipeline our way to lower gas prices? Look north, to Canada.

Wed, 2012-01-18 15:24Ben Jervey
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Without Facts on Their Side, Oil Shills Try to Buy Keystone Support on Twitter

As the internet reacts to the State Department's bold decision to deny the Keystone XL pipeline proposal, you're likely to come across the moans and cries of the stumbling Goliaths of Big Oil. 

Having lost the Keystone XL battle, the oil industry and its shills in Washington are falling back on that old reliable strategy to spin the decision. That old reliable strategy is, of course, “spending money” to pollute the public conversation with misinformation.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Republican Congressional Committee want to make sure that no matter what your opinion of the decision, and no matter who you follow, that you won't be able to avoid their political spin. Both groups are paying for “Promoted Tweets” on various Twitter streams relating to the Keystone XL decision.

My TweetDeck column that tracks anything tagged #nokxl has had this propaganda sitting atop it for the last couple of hours.

Likewise, a search of the term “Keystone XL,” which was trending on Twitter around 3:30 pm Eastern, turned up this gem from the NRCC.

Wed, 2012-01-18 11:11Ben Jervey
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Keystone XL Pipeline Would Increase Oil Prices in Midwest

Twitter is ablaze with the news that the State Department will announce today that the original TransCanada presidential permit application is dead in the water. Details are murky, so stay tuned for more, but what this likely means is that the State Department will allow TransCanada to re-apply for the permit with a new route that avoids the heart of Nebraska's Ogallalla Aquifer.

While it's good to see that President Obama is standing up to oil industry bullying and Republican pressure to fast-track the permit, this still means Keystone XL is very much in play. If it's ever built, Keystone XL will allow the expansion of the Alberta tar sands that climate scientists worry will send us down a dangerous path of global warming pollution. 

What's more, the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, if built, would increase oil prices in the American Midwest. That’s the shocking takeaway point from a bombshell report about Keystone XL as an export pipeline released today by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Oil Change International.

We’ve reported time and time again here on DeSmogBlog, the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would not improve America’s energy security, but never has that reality been more clearly conveyed than by this one real-world point that is worth repeating. The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would increase oil prices in the Midwest.

To understand how, exactly, an increased supply of oil to America could increase oil prices domestically, you have to understand two things about the Keystone XL pipeline.

First, Keystone XL is is an export pipeline, funneling foreign crude through American soil to Gulf refineries that will profit most by processing the low-grade tar sands crude into diesel to sell to the booming international market.

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