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Thu, 2014-09-25 14:49Justin Mikulka
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U.S. Oil Imports From Canada Hit All-Time High Despite Opposition

Oil tankers

While the battle against TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline rages on and oil-by-rail faces increased scrutiny, U.S. oil imports from Canada have quietly hit a record high of 2.99 million barrels per day.

That number — from the week ending Sept. 12, 2014 — marks a 20 per cent increase from a year earlier.

While rail is still handling only a small amount of crude oil compared to pipelines, it continues to rapidly expand.

In a May 19, 2014 meeting between the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), API indicated the oil industry estimated it would need 12,000 rail cars to move Western Canadian crude, which is predominantly tar sands oil.

And in the second half of this year, it is becoming evident that the API’s prediction was a pretty good one. Rail is going to play an increased role alongside pipelines in getting tar sands oil to market despite opposition from activists across North America.

Tue, 2014-09-23 08:26Justin Mikulka
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Government Accountability Office Report of Oil-By-Rail Safety Fails to Address Most Important Safety Issue

This week’s release of the government report titled Department of Transportation Is Taking Actions To Address Rail Safety, But Additional Actions Are Needed To Address Pipeline Safety — a year long review of the risks associated with the large increases in transporting domestically produced oil and gas in the United States — identifies several well known risks with moving oil by rail but concludes that the new proposed regulations address these issues.

As previously reported on DeSmogBlog, the new proposed rules actually do little to improve safety and also phase in any changes over many years meaning that the oil trains running right now are not meaningfully safer than the five that have crashed and exploded since July 2013. And won’t be for years to come.

The report has received a scathing review from ForestEthics Matt Krogh. ForestEthics has been one of the leading voices in the effort to get improved safety regulations for the oil trains and are the creators of the Oil Train Blast Zone website.

The Department of Transportation hasn’t kept pace with the expansion of oil train traffic.” Krogh said, “The agency still hasn’t banned tanker cars that were declared unfit for service more than two decades ago. The new proposed rules do little to improve safety.”

Wed, 2014-09-17 08:59Justin Mikulka
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Bomb Trains Keep Rolling While Congressional Committee Bickers About Bakken Crude

Congressman Paul Broun

When DeSmogBlog reported last week that no actual petroleum scientists would be testifying at the congressional science committee’s hearing on the characteristics of Bakken crude oil, we knew the hearing was unlikely to make any substantial progress toward improving the safety of transporting this volatile oil on trains through American communities.    

Indeed, we expected the hearing would be an exercise in avoiding getting the facts about Bakken crude to further delay or avoid regulations that would require the oil to be stabilized. But what actually transpired surprised even us and bordered on the absurd.

While the hearing was conducted under the banner of the Committee on Science, Space and Technology, it was co-chaired by Subcommittee on Energy chairman Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) and Subcommittee on Oversight chairman Paul Broun (R-Ga.)

During his opening remarks, Congressman Broun ripped into the Obama administration for denying his attempts to get “experts in the subject matter” as witnesses.

While I look forward to hearing from both panels today, I must say I am disappointed — though not surprised — at this Administration’s continued unwillingness to work with the Congress. Chairman Lummis and I invited representatives from the agencies who are experts in the subject matter because we are interested in the science behind Bakken crude. Instead, both agencies appearing before the Committee today declined to provide the witnesses we requested, sending us in their place witnesses more knowledgeable on the politics behind Bakken crude. As I said, I am not surprised, just disappointed.

Tue, 2014-09-09 05:00Justin Mikulka
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Goldman Sachs Warns Investors About Tar Sands By Rail Challenges While Investing in Tar Sands By Rail

Oil by rail

In 2009, Matt Taibbi wrote a piece in Rolling Stone in which he described the investment bank Goldman Sachs as “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.” 

Apparently tar sands oil smells like money. And thus the vampire squid has found another target. As Reuters reported on August 29:

A Goldman Sachs-led rail terminal operator, USD Group LLC, announced on Friday plans to form a Master-Limited Partnership this year to trade publicly on the New York Stock Exchange.

This new company will be based around a tar sands rail loading facility in Hardisty, Alberta. That is the same place where the proposed Keystone XL pipeline would begin. USD Group already owns a crude-by-rail terminal in the town, with capacity to load two 120-car unit trains per day.

And with the success of this first phase of development, the company has announced plans to double the capacity of the terminal, which would allow it to load 280,000 barrels per day (bpd). The company has also announced plans to add another 70,000 bpd, which would bring its capacity to 350,000 bpd, or roughly half the proposed capacity of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline.

Mon, 2014-09-08 11:56Justin Mikulka
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How Many Crude Oil Scientists Will Testify At Congressional Science Committee Hearing on Bakken Crude? Zero

Bakken crude

Bakken petroleum: the substance of energy independence.

If you think that sounds like the latest branding from the oil industry’s public relations efforts, you might be right. However, it isn’t an ad — it is the title of the congressional hearing on Bakken oil on Tuesday.

When North Dakota congressman Kevin Cramer first announced he would hold this hearing, he promised to bring together the top scientists to discuss the properties of Bakken crude.

Here’s how he explained it when being interviewed by the 6:30 Point of View television show. 

I want three good solid scientists… consultants apart from all of the politicians and the presidential appointees. And I’ve promised them a very fair thorough review of the data and the evidence and the information. So that we can, you know, answer definitively and scientifically what is the volatility, if you will, of Bakken crude. How does it compare to other crudes?”

Congressman Cramer was apparently unable to find those three good scientists. Here are the five people who will be witnesses at the hearing.

Fri, 2014-09-05 13:30Justin Mikulka
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Safety of Citizens in Bomb Train Blast Zones in Hands of North Dakota Politicians

Lac Megantic train explosion

When North Dakota Congressman Kevin Cramer was asked recently if it was scientifically possible to make Bakken crude oil safer by stripping out the explosive natural gas liquids with a process like oil stabilization, his response was quite telling.

So scientifically can you do it? Sure, but you have to look at it holistically and consider all of the other elements including economics, and is the benefit of doing something like that does that trump other things like speed of trains, and what kind of cars,” he said.

This is very similar to the comments made by Lynn Helms of the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources according to the July 29 meeting minutes provided to DeSmogBlog by the Industrial Commission of North Dakota.

In response to a question regarding other mechanisms besides oil conditioning in the field, Mr. Helms stated there are other mechanisms — none of them without a significant downside….It makes sense to do the conditioning in the field. There are other options to do it downstream somewhere in a very large and very expensive operation.”

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