oil by rail

New Oil-By-Rail Regulations Are Big Win for Oil and Rail Industries, Won’t Stop “Bomb Trains”

The long-awaited oil-by-rail regulations released today are basically a guidebook for the oil and rail industries to continue doing business as usual when it comes to moving explosive Bakken crude oil by rail.

DeSmog recently reported on how the Obama administration has worked behind the scenes to help achieve the oil industry’s top goal when it came to these new regulations — allowing the oil producers to continue to put the highly volatile Bakken crude oil into rail tank cars without removing the natural gas liquids that make it such an explosive mixture.

As we’ve reported, there is a relatively simple fix to end, or significantly reduce, the “bomb train” disasters, via a process known as stabilization.

Why Was The White House Involved in North Dakota Oil-by-Rail Regulations?

A seemingly innocuous email about two people getting coffee in August of 2014 helps shed light on the behind-the-scenes lobbying efforts to shape the oil-by-rail regulations that have given the oil industry a pass on the explosive nature of Bakken crude oil.

The emails, acquired by DeSmogBlog via a Freedom of Information Act request, led us to discover a troubling trail of influence from the Beltway to the Bakken. It's a sordid tale wherein public safety is needlessly compromised by the threat of “bomb trains” while the government ignores a simple fix to safeguard communities in favor of enabling runaway profits for the oil and rail industries.

Congresswoman Declares Pipeline and Oil-by-Rail Regulatory System "Fundamentally Broken"

The system is fundamentally broken.”

Those were the words of Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) during an April 14th hearing on oil-by-rail and pipeline safety.

For anyone expecting the soon to be released oil-by-rail regulations to make any meaningful improvements to safety, it would be wise to review the full comments made by Rep. Speier.

Exploding Trains, No New Regulations, Record Industry Profits: The Oil-by-Rail Story

A month ago there was a close call for the oil-by-rail industry. As part of the Cromnibus bill that President Obama signed in December, new oil-by-rail regulations were supposed to be finalized and implemented by regulators by January 15th.

Two days before that deadline, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), the agency responsible for new regulations, posted new documents on their website related to recent meetings between PHMSA and various oil and rail industry lobbyists.

They did not issue a press release about these meetings, unlike the meetings a year ago when the industry volunteered to try improving its safety record and there was plenty of publicity.

And then it was announced that new regulations would once again be delayed, this time until May 2015.

Since that delay an ethanol train has derailed resulting in burning rail cars and ethanol spilling into the Mississippi River. An oil train derailed and caught fire in Gogama, Canada. And another oil train of Bakken crude oil derailed, exploded, and leaked oil into the Kanawha River near Mount Carbon, West Virginia.

Singing Industry’s Tune: How Rep. Jeff Denham Plans to Delay Oil-by-Rail Safety Improvements

Vintage effect applied to fast moving freight train

I just want to make sure that we are all singing the same tune that we have a very safe industry and we want to work together on improving that industry.”

Those were the words of Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials on February 3rd at a hearing titled “How the Changing Energy Markets Will Affect U.S. Transportation.” He was directing this advice to Greg Saxton, chief engineer for rail tank car manufacturer Greenbrier.

Denham obviously had a bone to pick with Saxton because prior to the hearing the Modesto Bee, a newspaper in Denham’s home district, ran an editorial making a strong case that the existing tank cars used to transport crude oil are unsafe. The editorial, “Delays on safer rail cars are unacceptable,” didn’t mince words. It was clear on what should happen: “The DOT [Department of Transportation] should adopt rules for those cars then set deadlines to replace every single tank car in America. Our elected representatives should insist on it.”

In Modesto, the elected representative who should be insisting on that is Jeff Denham.

Modesto is also home to Greenbrier’s manufacturing facilities and the editorial quoted Saxton for its conclusion noting his position on the lack of new regulations. “We just need a decision. Twenty years is too long.”

This is not the tune that Chairman Denham wants everyone to be singing. In his comments to Saxton at the hearing he explained his intent.

Fact Check: Rick Perry Already Advocated Publicly for Bakken Oil Pipeline In Iowa

Rick Perry Bakken Pipeline

By David Goodner 

Rick Perry's Iowa spokesman says the potential presidential candidate won't publicly advocate for the controversial Bakken oil pipeline project he has a personal stake in as newly appointed board member of Energy Transfer Partners. But Perry was on TV news telling Iowans they “should support efforts to build the Bakken Pipeline” three days before his appointment to the board of the Fortune 500 oil company was made public.

Rekha Basu's excellent story Feb 11 for the Des Moines Register, “PAC money distorts politics, caucuses” sums up exactly why former Texas Governor Rick Perry's entanglement in a controversial, hot-potato Bakken oil pipeline fight in Iowa is such a big deal. Basu writes:

Prospective presidential candidate Perry gets a direct financial stake in a controversial oil-pipeline proposal. The Bakken pipeline, which would stretch through Iowa on its way from North Dakota to Illinois, is widely opposed by environmental and other groups. But by investing in Perry and his campaign, the company can bank on a friend in the White House to create a climate favorable for such projects. In 2012, the head of Energy Transfer Partners gave a quarter million dollars to a Super PAC for Perry. And now Perry has a seat on its board. A Perry spokesman says Perry won't be publicly promoting the pipeline, but he doesn't have to. His board presence is endorsement enough.

I hope most Americans also understand the absurdity of politicians using their office to return a debt to the deep pockets that helped get them elected.

But Basu's op-ed is also the third mainstream media story in as many days to uncritically repeat a questionable claim that Perry's Iowa spokesman Robert Haus made saying that the Texas politician will not publicly promote the Bakken pipeline in Iowa.

South Dakota Sen. John Thune Stumps For Oil-by-Rail Industry

Sen. John Thune (R-SD), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, recently got a bit overzealous in stumping for the oil and rail industries at a Jan. 28 hearing on freight rail challenges.

Thune stated that he believes the timeline in the proposed rule to retrofit and replace the dangerous DOT-111 tank cars used to carry oil by rail is “unattainable.” These are the same DOT-111 tank cars that were first called unsafe by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) over 20 years ago.

But simply giving the industry decades to respond to safety concerns wasn’t enough for Thune. Apparently Thune failed to read the proposed regulations he was criticizing when he made the following statement, “The DOT [Department of Transportation] issued this proposed rule without analyzing the potential tank car shop capacity needed to retrofit or replace over 100,000 DOT-111 tank cars.”

Here are some excerpts from those proposed regulations.

Facing Felony Charges, Rick Perry Joins Board of Energy Transfer Partners, Owner of Proposed Oil Pipeline Across Iowa

Additional Reporting by David Goodner

Former Texas Republican Governor Rick Perry has joined the board of directors at Energy Transfer Partners, a natural gas and propane company headquartered in Dallas, Texas that has proposed to build a controversial Bakken crude oil pipeline across Iowa.

The announcement, which appeared in Energy Transfer Partners' February 3 Form 8-K filing to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), comes as Perry faces two Texas state-level felony charges for abuse of power. Perry pleaded not guilty to both charges and District Judge Bert Richardson recently ruled against dismissing Perry's case.  

“It isn't immediately clear how much Perry will be paid for his board position,” explained the Texas Tribune. “According to regulatory filings published on the company's website, non-employee board directors were paid $50,000 a year in 2013.”

Despite the felony charges, Perry is still strongly considering a 2016 presidential run, according to a recent article published by the Associated Press, which reported he may make a final decision on whether or not to run by May. 

The Energy Transfer Partners filing to the SEC describes Perry's appointment: 

Item 5.02. Departure of Directors or Certain Officers; Election of Directors; Appointment of Certain Officers; Compensatory Arrangements of Certain Officers.
On February 3, 2015, James R. (Rick) Perry was appointed as a director of Energy Transfer Partners, L.L.C., the general partner of Energy Transfer Partners GP, L.P., which is the general partner of Energy Transfer Partners, L.P. (the “Partnership”). Mr. Perry served as the Governor of Texas from 2000 until 2015.
 
There are no arrangements or understandings with the Partnership, or any other persons, pursuant to which Mr. Perry was appointed as a director of Energy Transfer Partners, L.L.C. Mr. Perry is not currently expected to be named to any committees of the board of directors of Energy Transfer Partners, L.L.C. At this time, the Partnership is not aware of any transactions, since the beginning of the Partnership’s last fiscal year, or any currently proposed transactions, in which the Partnership was or is to be a participant involving amounts exceeding $120,000, and in which Mr. Perry had or will have a direct or indirect material interest. Consistent with other non-employee members of the Board of Directors, Mr. Perry will be eligible to receive cash compensation for his service on the Board of Directors and equity compensation under the Second Amended and Restated 2008 Long-Term Incentive Plan, as described in the Definitive Proxy Statement on Schedule 14A filed by the Partnership with the SEC on October 24, 2014.
 

Oil-by-Rail Reality: Watch What Industry Does, Not What They Say

In the past month, there have been numerous public relations efforts suggesting that much is being done to improve oil by rail safety. Unfortunately, it seems these efforts will not involve much more than press releases and hollow promises.”

Those words were first published on DeSmogBlog in March of last year in an article titled Why Nothing Will Happen On Oil by Rail Safety.

In that article, one particular public relations effort was highlighted:

“One of the more popular talking points in the recent PR effort was that BNSF, the railroad that is the largest transporter of oil by rail, had volunteered to buy 5,000 new rail tank cars that exceed any existing safety standard.”

This statement was referring to articles such as the one in the Wall Street Journal last February stating, “BNSF Railway said it plans to buy as many as 5,000 new tank cars to transport crude oil, an unusual move that marks the latest effort by the rail industry to improve safety after a spate of accidents.” Similar articles appeared in Reuters (“Exclusive: BNSF to move into tank car ownership with safer oil fleet”) and CNBC.

It was a clear message. The rail industry was not waiting on new regulations to improve safety and would take steps immediately to make the movement of oil by rail safer. Tough to argue with that, right?

Except it was nothing more than a public relations campaign.

Canadian Government: This Reporter's Question About ALEC 'Undeserving of Response'

ALEC light brigading

This article is re-published with permission from mikedesouza.com

As some of you may know, I’ll be starting a new role in January 2015 as an investigative resources correspondent for Reuters.

Getting access to records about government decisions and policies has long played a key role in the work of many journalists around the world. It will also be a key element for me in the weeks, months and years to come.

So to end off 2014, here are a few examples of some of my recent experiences with government efforts to either release or hide information.

Canada’s information watchdog has noted that the Supreme Court of Canada recognizes access to information as a quasi-constitutional right of all Canadians.

Obtaining access to information is an extension of freedom of expression since it allows the population to be informed and speak about government policies and decisions on how these governments spend public money.

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