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Mon, 2014-12-15 06:00Justin Mikulka
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Calls to Ban Bomb Trains Ramp Up While Communities Await New Regulations

ban bomb trains

Earthjustice has challenged the Department of Transportation’s denial of a petition by Sierra Club and Forest Ethics to ban the transportation of Bakken crude oil in DOT-111 tank cars.

Most of the explosive crude oil on U.S. rails is moving in tanker cars that are almost guaranteed to fail in an accident,” explained Patti Goldman of Earthjustice.

The risks are too great to keep shipping explosive Bakken crude in defective DOT-111s. The National Transportation Safety Board called them unsafe two decades ago, and by the Department of Transportation’s own estimates, the U.S. could see 15 rail accidents every year involving these cars until we get them off the tracks.” 

At the same time Earthjustice was bringing this challenge, the Canadian government was announcing that it will ban 3,000 of the riskiest DOT-111s from carrying materials like Bakken crude.

Thu, 2014-12-11 07:00Justin Mikulka
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North Dakota's Meaningless New Bakken Oil Regulations Will Keep Bomb Trains Rolling

Oil train

New regulations purported to make Bakken crude safer for transport instead allow business as usual for the oil and rail industries moving explosive Bakken crude oil in unsafe DOT-111 rail cars.

The regulations announced Tuesday by the North Dakota Industrial Commission state that: “The goal is to produce crude oil that does not exceed a vapor pressure of 13.7 pounds per square inch (psi).”

There are two important things to note about this goal.

The first is that the vapor pressure of the oil that exploded in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, resulting in the death of 47 people, was under 10 psi and was described as being “as volatile as gasoline.” So the new regulations will permit oil that is significantly more volatile than the oil in the Lac-Megantic disaster to continue to be shipped by rail. 

The second important thing to note is that almost all of the oil that the industry and regulators have sampled in the past year has been well below 13.7 psi. Of 99 samples taken in the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s sampling study, 94 were below 13.7 psi and the average psi for that study was 12.3 psi.

Sun, 2014-12-07 07:00Justin Mikulka
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Elites Agree Oil Crash Crisis Is Opportunity To Lift Crude Export Ban

If the major oil producers see an opportunity to potentially produce an extra 3 million barrels per day of oil in the United States, they aren’t going to let it pass. To put that amount in perspective, in the past six months the highest daily total imported from Saudi Arabia,  was under 1.5 million barrels per day.

However, the oil companies can only find markets for this additional production and profit if the U.S. ban on exporting crude oil is lifted. And while logic would argue that pushing to increase the amount of oil being produced at a time when the oil price is crashing due to global oversupply of crude is an odd strategy, the oil companies are doing just that.

At the Columbia University Energy Symposium on November 21st, one of the day’s events was a “Fireside Chat” about ending the crude oil export ban featuring moderator Robert McNally, president of energy consultancy The Rapidan Group, and Marianne Kah, chief economist for ConocoPhillips.

Early in the conversation, McNally asked Kah, “In the grand scheme of things with all of the energy challenges we have, how important is this issue?”

Sun, 2014-11-30 13:28Justin Mikulka
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Obama’s Argument Against Keystone XL Pokes Holes in Industry's Argument to Lift Crude Oil Export Ban

Crude oil export ban

Larry Summers, former secretary of the treasury and top economic advisor to President Barack Obama, has strongly advocated to lift the crude oil export ban. And he has a compelling, if not necessarily fact-based, argument.

Permitting the exports of oil will actually reduce the price of gasoline,” Summers told an audience at the Brookings Institute on September 9th.

This argument for lifting the crude oil export ban is also pushed by the American Petroleum Institute, prominent Republicans and the Government Accountability Office.

When analyzing the push to lift the crude oil export ban, it's informative to look to the ongoing efforts to sell the massive expansion in U.S. natural gas exports.

The oil and gas industry and its supporters have also pushed the idea that exporting natural gas would be good for the average American. However, in the case of natural gas exports, the outcome was actually quite the opposite as predicted by the Energy Information Administration in a report titled “Effect of Increased Natural Gas Exports on Domestic Energy Markets.”

Their analysis reads: “Increased natural gas exports lead to higher domestic natural gas prices.”

Fri, 2014-11-21 13:00Justin Mikulka
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New York Activists Turn to Civil Disobedience As Last Resort to Fight Regulatory Capture

Award-winning author and anti-fracking activist Dr. Sandra Steingraber is going to spend Thanksgiving in jail. And it won’t be her first stay there. She spent last Earth Day there as well. She is returning to jail in upstate New York after her arrest for being part of a human blockade at the gates of the Crestwood Midstream gas storage facility on the shores of Seneca Lake in New York.

And despite the upcoming holiday about giving thanks, Steingraber has a message for anyone who wants to thank her for her efforts to protect the waters of Seneca Lake, a source of drinking water for 100,000 people - “Don’t thank me, join me.”

Over the last four weeks, she has found plenty of people to join her. Activists working under the name We Are Seneca Lake have repeatedly blocked the gates of the Crestwood facility. Initially sentenced to jail along with Steingraber this week were fellow blockade members U.S.A.F. veteran Colleen Boland (retired) and 86 year old Roland Micklem.

Over the four weeks of the We Are Seneca Lake protests, there have been 52 arrests. The protests began after a decision by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to allow the abandoned salt caverns on the shores of Seneca Lake to be used for gas storage.  As there currently is little recourse left for anyone opposing a FERC decision, We Are Seneca Lake has resorted to civil disobedience.

Steingraber explained at a press conference this week:

Sat, 2014-11-15 12:00Justin Mikulka
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Government Accountability Office Report on Oil Export Ban Based On Industry-Funded Studies

oil exports

Earlier this year, at CERAWeek, the must-attend energy conference for industry players, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) made an interesting statement while advocating for lifting the oil export ban in her keynote speech.

This year – 2014 – will be the Year of the Report. Think tanks and research institutions across the country are examining the possibility of crude exports and the potential ramifications. Working groups are assembling, writing papers, crunching numbers.  And that’s a good thing,” Murkowski said.

Sen. Murkowski made this statement as part of prepared remarks described as a “roadmap” for lifting the ban on crude oil exports. Murkowski’s prediction would make it seem like she already knew the reports would reach the conclusion that lifting the ban on crude oil exports was “a good thing.” Perhaps it was just a lucky guess for her back in March, but she was right.

In October, the Governmental Accountability Office (GAO) reached just that conclusion in its report, Changing Crude Oil Markets: Allowing Exports Could Reduce Consumer Fuel Prices. It should be noted that the GAO undertook this effort at the request of none other than Alaskan Senator Lisa Murkowski.

The GAO concluded that lifting the crude oil export ban was a positive because it could potentially lower consumer fuel prices in the U.S. However, when it came to analyzing the environmental impacts of increased oil production and exports, the Congressional agency was unable to reach any quantifiable conclusions.

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