Justin Mikulka's blog

At Federal Energy Conference, Forecasts Predict Bright Future for Fossil Fuels

This year’s annual Energy Information Administration conference started off on a somewhat positive note with a presentation by Dr. John Holdren, the Obama administration director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Holdren was clear in his presentation that the risks of climate change are real and deserve urgent action. 

He noted estimates of 15 feet of sea level rise being baked in with warming of only 2 degrees Celsius — a target that clearly will be difficult to meet. He commented on the following slide of predicted fossil fuel consumption growth as “very striking” and noted that “There really is no time to lose in shrinking emissions.”

Rail Industry Requests Massive Loophole in Oil-by-Rail Safety To Extend Bomb Trains Well Beyond 2025

In the most recent oil-by-rail accident in Mosier, Oregon the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) concluded that the tank cars involved — the jacketed CPC-1232 type — “performed as expected.” So an oil train derailing at the relatively slow speed of 25 mph should be “expected” to have breached cars resulting in fiery explosions.

Current regulations allow those tank cars to continue rolling on the track carrying volatile Bakken crude oil and ethanol until 2025 with no modifications.

Yet industry lobbying group the Railway Supply Institute (RSI) has now requested the Federal Railroad Administration to essentially allow these jacketed CPC-1232 tank cars to remain on the tracks for decades beyond 2025.

This was just one of the troubling facts that came to light at the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) roundtable on tank car safety on July 13th, and perhaps the one of greatest concern to anyone living in an oil train blast zone like Mosier, Oregon.  

Are Oil Trains Just Too Heavy? No Regulations, No Weigh To Know

The cause of the most recent bomb train derailment and fire in Mosier, OR has been determined to be lag bolts that had sheared off resulting in the derailment. This once again raises concerns that the unit trains of oil are putting too much stress on the tracks due to their excessive weight and length. 

There is precedent for this issue according to rail consultant and former industry official Steven Ditmeyer. In the early 1990s, there was a similar problem with some double stacked container cars being too heavy for the infrastructure — because of overloaded containers — resulting in sheared rail spikes.

This sounds like a very similar circumstance to what was happening in the early 1990s with overloaded double stack container cars,” Ditmeyer told DeSmog.

So, since double stacked containers are currently in wide use but there are no longer derailment issues like in the 1990s, what changed?

American Petroleum Institute Forming Climate Change Task Force?

It isn’t hard to find critics of the American Petroleum Institute's CEO Jack Gerard in the community of people who care about the climate. However, it is perhaps telling that the Washington Post reported that when they asked oil industry insiders to describe him, one response was “Voldemart.” 

In addition to such “compliments” from his industry peers, the work Jack Gerard performs netted him over $13 million in 2013 alone. 

In that same Washington Post article it was noted that a former API board member said “for my taste the whole organization is far too aggressive.” But that board member probably doesn’t make $13 million a year.  

With the API producing slick ads with its Vote4Energy “energy voters” saying they “don't buy it” that fossil fuel energy is harmful to the environment, it is clear that the organization remains aggressive. 

Luck Rides The Rails: Another Near Miss with an "Insane" Bakken Oil Bomb Train

Luck was in abundance on Friday in Mosier, Oregon where the latest Bakken oil train derailed and erupted into flames near a 50-home residential area and a school. 

As Mosier Fire Chief Jim Appleton said, “Mosier really dodged a bullet in the last 24 hours.”

“I hope that this becomes death knell for this mode of shipping this cargo. I think it’s insane,” Appleton said. “I’ve been very hesitant to take a side up to now, but with this incident, and with all due respect to the wonderful people that I’ve met at Union Pacific, shareholder value doesn’t outweigh the lives and happiness of our community.”

It's a familiar story to those following the Bakken oil “bomb train” saga — luck.

If I had been there another second, it’d probably have killed me,” Bounds said. “Glass was flying everywhere behind me. The walls were caving in. I hadn’t run like that in years.”

That was Morris Bounds describing to The Spokesman Review how he barely escaped the derailing Bakken oil train that destroyed his home in Mount Carbon, West Virginia in February 2015. He literally saw the train derailing and ran out his front door as the train wiped out his house behind him. 

You don’t get much luckier than Morris Bounds. Or his wife, who happened to be in the hospital that day instead of at home. 

Later that year when another Bakken oil train derailed in a residential neighborhood in Watertown, Wisconsin but did not ignite, Sarah Feinberg, the head of the Federal Railroad Administration, declared, “We feel we got really lucky.”  

Top Obama Energy Official Says Administration Rejects “Keep It In The Ground” As Climate Strategy

We’re certainly not advocating any strategy for reducing hydrocarbon emissions by keeping oil in the ground…that’s not a position.” 

This was the response of Christopher A. Smith when he was asked what he thought of the “growing movement of keeping oil in the ground” at the 2016 Columbia Global Energy Summit in April.

Since Chris Smith worked for more than a decade for Chevron and Texaco, this answer should not surprise anyone. 

However, Chris Smith now works for President Obama as assistant secretary of fossil energy, so when he says “we’re certainly not advocating” he is referring to the fact that the Obama Administration’s Department of Energy does not support any strategy to keep oil in the ground. 

And if you think Mr. Smith isn’t in a position of authority in the Obama administration when it comes to oil policy, you might want to consider how he was introduced at the event by moderator Antoine Halff:

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