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Tue, 2011-09-13 11:35Ben Jervey
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Environmental Impact Deemed "Limited" For Potentially Explosive Shale Gas Pipeline Into Lower Manhattan

Last Friday, exactly one year after the massive natural gas pipeline blast that killed eight and leveled a San Bruno, California neighborhood, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) brought the controversial New Jersey-New York gas line one step closer to construction.

The pipeline, as proposed by Spectra Energy, would carry shale gas through a number of New Jersey towns, under the Hudson River, and into the Meatpacking District of Lower Manhattan. On Friday, FERC released a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that gave preliminary approval for construction of the pipeline and all of the related aboveground facilities. The EIS runs over 800 pages long, so I wasn’t able to give it a thorough read (you can find links to all the sections here), but the Executive Summary gave every indication that the line would be approved. FERC found “that construction and operation of the NJ-NY Project would result in limited adverse environmental impacts” and that “[T]hese limited impacts would mostly occur during the period of construction.”

For all the detailed discussion of wetlands and waterways and noise pollution and archaeological sites, there’s one major risk – environmental and public safety – that the report glosses over.

What happens if there’s an explosion? New Jersey-New York City shale gas pipeline map

Fri, 2011-09-09 09:50Ben Jervey
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San Bruno Gas Explosion One Year Anniversary, Lax Oversight is Blamed

San Bruno natural gas pipeline explosion at night

One year ago today, at about 6:11 pm, a massive natural gas line explosion ripped apart a residential neighborhood in San Bruno, California. The blast was described as “a thunderous roar heard for miles,” and the geyser of fire that spewed forth killed eight people, injured dozens, destroyed 38 homes, and damaged another 70.

Last week, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which regulates energy and resource pipelines, revealed the findings of their year-long investigation into the causes of that fatal, catastrophic blast.

“Our investigation revealed that for years, PG&E exploited weaknesses in a lax system of oversight,” said NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman. “We also identified regulators that placed a blind trust in the companies that they were charged with overseeing to the detriment of public safety.”

Wed, 2011-09-07 07:30Ben Jervey
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America’s Natural Gas Pipelines - A Closer Look At This Gigantic Pipeline System

Following up on our broader look at the North American oil and gas pipeline system, with a focus on crude and the special case of tar sands oil pipelines, this week we'll tackle the tubes that carry natural gas.

Natural Gas in the United States

In 2009, the US used some 22 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, surpassing Russia as the world's largest producer and consumer of the fuel. Used for everything from heating homes to lighting cooking ranges to powering fleet vehicles to firing power plants – and often cited as a cleaner-burning energy source than coal or oil – demand for the fossil fuel has spiked in recent years.

While natural gas is produced in 32 states, the top five – Texas, Wyoming, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and New Mexico, in that order – produce a full 65 percent of the nation's total (pdf). This leaves a lot of states dependent on natural gas imports. As this map shows, 28 states need to import at least 85 percent of their gas demands.

natural gas pipelines map

Click here or on the map for a larger version.

Moving this huge amount of natural gas around requires a vast pipeline transmission system. Let's take a closer look at these pipes, shall we?

Fri, 2011-09-02 14:16Ben Jervey
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Reality Check: New Keystone XL Report Blows Up Steven Chu's "Energy Security" Claim

Earlier this week, in an interview with EnergyNow!, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu hinted that the administration would likely approve the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. The controversial pipeline, which would carry filthy diluted bitumen (or DilBit) crude 1,700 miles across six Great Plains states, 1,904 waterways, and the nation’s largest freshwater aquifer, needs State Department approval to cross the international border. Opposition to the pipeline is fierce – over the past two weeks over 1,000 activists have been arrested at the White House in a massive act of civil disobedience – as environmentalists, Great Plains landowners, scientists, and public health activists alike warn of the inevitable oil spills and immense carbon pollution that would result from Keystone XL’s construction.
 
Proponents of the pipeline have been pushing the claim that building this pipeline will improve our energy security and reduce our dependence on oil from Venezuela and the Middle East. Companies like TransCanada, the Canadian energy company hoping to build the pipeline, and Valero, the Texas-based refinery company that stands to profit the most from the DilBit crude that it would deliver – have been more than happy to help perpetuate that myth, even if their internal discussions and the economics of the oil industry don’t back it up.  

Unfortunately, Secretary Chu’s interview on Wednesday revealed that the administration is going to use this false claim as political cover if (or, more realistically, when) they approve the construction of Keystone XL. Here’s the interview:
Wed, 2011-08-03 06:15Ben Jervey
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U.S. Chamber Of Commerce Launches Campaign To Lobby For Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline

keystone pipeline keystone xl

Last Friday, after applauding the House’s vote to rush a decision on TransCanada Corp’s Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce launched a new campaign to boost the controversial project. The Partnership to Fuel America is run out of the U.S. Chamber’s Institute for 21st Century Energy, and seems positioned to be the U.S. Chamber’s main influence channel to drum up support for Keystone XL. Supportive comments aside, it’s also the first time the U.S. Chamber has so publicly and overtly aligned with the Canadian company’s project.

The launch comes at a pivotal moment for Keystone XL. The Obama administration has the final say in approving the pipeline, and they’ve said the decision will be made by the end of the year. The new House legislation declared that the Obama administration must make the call by November 1st. A final environmental review of the prospective project is expected from the State Department in August. (To learn more about how tar sands pipelines like Keystone XL are a much greater risk than normal crude pipelines, see my earlier post.)

Fri, 2011-07-29 12:14Ben Jervey
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The Many Problems With Tar Sands Pipelines

Enbridge tar sands pipeline spill Kalamazoo River Michigan

Note: This post is part of an ongoing series about North American pipelines. For an introduction and links to the wide-ranging coverage–from safety to legal issues to the business and economics to vulnerabilities–see this regularly-updated intro post.

On Monday, the House passed a bill that would force the Obama administration to make a final decision on TransCanada’s controversial Keystone XL pipeline by November 1. The Keystone XL project (which regular DeSmogBlog readers should be familiar with) would funnel tar sands oil from Alberta’s massive reserves down to Gulf Coast refineries in Texas.

This isn’t the place to discuss in too much depth the various and plentiful problems with Alberta tar sands itself – from extraction to transportation to refining to combustion, it’s the dirtiest oil on the planet. From a climate perspective, the Alberta tar sands contain enough carbon to lock the planet into climate chaos. In the words of NASA climatologist Jim Hansen, “if the tar sands are thrown into the mix it is essentially game over.”

Because Keystone XL is so controversial, and because its construction could be such a tipping point in the climate fight, a broad and diverse coalition of scientists and activists are digging in their heels for a big fight, and planning a multi-week action at the White House. (Here’s more on how to get involved.)

But since this is a post about pipelines, I’m going to focus on how tar sands pipelines are different than those that carry conventional crude, how they’re much more prone to leaks and spills, and how those spills are particularly bad for the environment.

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