oil spill

Fri, 2015-02-13 13:18Mike Gaworecki
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Obama Administration Hopes Third Time’s A Charm For Chukchi Sea Lease Despite Major Risks

The US Department of the Interior released the final supplemental environmental impact statement for Chukchi Sea Lease Sale 193 yesterday, continuing to move the process of affirming the leases originally sold in 2008 forward despite acknowledging the major risks of allowing drilling in the Arctic.

The story of the US government's attempts to sell off its stake in the Arctic Ocean to oil companies eager to exploit the oil reserves beneath the waters is a strange and sordid saga.

The Bush Administration originally leased 30 million acres of the Chukchi Sea for oil drilling in 2008 while relying on incomplete information about the local wildlife. A judge with the Federal District Court in Alaska determined the leases violated the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) in 2010.

The judge ordered the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) to reconsider the leases, but a year later, the Obama Administration made the decision to let them stand and issued the first Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for Chukchi Sea Lease Sale 193 in 2011.

In January of 2014, the Court Of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled once again that the leases violated the law by failing to adequately consider the potentially catastrophic effects of drilling for oil in the Arctic Ocean. A new draft analysis was released by BOEM in October 2014, and this time it conceded that there was a 75% chance of one or more large oil spills (defined as more than 1,000 barrels) occurring if the leases were developed.

In response, the environmental group Earthjustice issued a statement saying, “There is no way effectively to clean up or contain an oil spill in Arctic Ocean conditions.” The group also says that millions of Americans responded to the draft analysis by calling on the Obama Administration to stop drilling in the Arctic Ocean once and for all.

Instead, BOEM released the second final supplemental environmental impact statement, marking the federal government’s third attempt to justify Chukchi Sea Lease Sale 193 even while acknowledging how disastrous oil drilling in the region could be. Environmentalists were quick to point out that the new analysis did not correct the problems identified in the initial draft.

“Today’s impact statement confirms again that drilling in the Chukchi Sea puts Arctic people and wildlife at risk from major oil spills,” Earthjustice staff attorney Erik Grafe said in a statement. “It concludes there is a 75 percent chance of one or more major oil spills if the Chukchi Sea is developed, and there is no way to clean or contain such a spill.”

Thu, 2015-01-22 13:44Farron Cousins
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EPA Offers New Standards For Oil Spill Dispersant Use; Still Won’t Ban Toxic Agents

After years of ignoring the dangers of the oil dispersant Corexit, the Environmental Protection Agency has finally decided to enact stricter standards for how dispersants are used during offshore oil spills… Sort of.

According to Truth-Out reporter Dahr Jamail, the EPA has proposed a slew of new standards that would better govern the use of dispersants for future spills. But, as Jamail points out, American doctors and scientists are concerned that the agency is not doing enough to protect the public and the environment from the dangers of the dispersants:

Robert Mathis, an M.D. and doctor of environmental medicine in Santa Barbara, California, described how several of the chemical ingredients of the dispersants that are regularly used on oil spills remain unknown because they are “trade secrets,” but that even the known chemicals in the dispersant cocktails are extremely dangerous to humans; they contain an “emulsifier that allows chemicals deeper penetration into tissues and cells.”

“Dispersants disrupt both bacterial and human cell membranes,” Mathis explained. “Damage disrupts cell functions, leading to cell failure, and may cause cancers and death. All living things are damaged, including groundwater.”

The new guidelines proposed by the agency would give the public broader access to the rules that govern the use of dispersants, the available dispersants for the type of spill, and the risks of using each particular dispersant, sometimes including a list of ingredients.

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.

Tue, 2014-12-09 06:28Mike Gaworecki
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Call For Crude-By-Rail Moratorium In California After Train Derailment

A train derailment last week has prompted a California state legislator to call for a moratorium on crude-by-rail shipments through the state’s “most treacherous” passes.

Twelve cars derailed on a Union Pacific rail line along the Feather River northeast of Oroville, CA in the early morning hours of November 5th. The state Office of Emergency Services responded by saying “we dodged a bullet” due to the fact that the train was carrying corn, some of which spilled into the river, and not oil.

State Senator Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), a vocal critic of the state’s emergency preparedness for responding to crude-by-rail accidents, does not think California should wait around for a bullet it can’t dodge before taking action. Hill sent a letter to Governor Jerry Brown calling for a moratorium on shipments of volatile crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale and other hazardous materials via the Feather River Canyon and several other high risk routes throughout California.

“This incident serves as a warning alarm to the State of California,” Hill wrote in the letter. “Had Tuesday’s derailment resulted in a spill of oil, the spill could have caused serious contamination in the Feather River, flowing into Lake Oroville and contaminating California’s second largest reservoir that supplies water to the California Water Project and millions of people.”

Wed, 2014-11-12 18:52Emma Gilchrist and Carol Linnitt
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Convenient Conspiracy: How Vivian Krause Became the Poster Child for Canada’s Anti-Environment Crusade

Vivian Krause The Province

Today Vivian Krause published an opinion piece in The Province claiming “a vote for Vision is a vote for U.S. oil interests.” So, you might be wondering: just who is Vivian Krause? We’re so glad you asked…

An essential component of all public relations campaigns is having the right messenger— a credible, impassioned champion of your cause.

While many PR pushes fail to get off the ground, those that really catch on — the ones that gain political attention and result in debates and senate inquiries — almost always have precisely the right poster child.

And in the federal government and oil industry’s plight to discredit environmental groups, the perfect poster child just so happens to be Vivian Krause.

Sun, 2014-09-28 07:00Mike Gaworecki
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Arctic Madness: Shell and ConocoPhillips Plead With US Govt to Avoid Standards For Arctic Spill Preparedness

Two oil companies planning to drill in remote Arctic waters, Shell and ConocoPhillips, are pleading with U.S. regulators not to make them follow new guidelines proposed by the Interior Department that would require the companies to keep emergency spill response equipment close at hand and prohibit the use of chemical dispersants.

The precise details of the new rules for Arctic drilling operations have not been made public as an inter-agency review of the Interior Department's proposal is still being carried out.

But records of meetings with officials at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which is currently reviewing the new standards, show that Shell is vigorously contesting rules that would require the company to keep on hand the necessary equipment for emergency response in the event of a blowout, such as containment systems and a rig to drill a relief well.

Shell says that keeping a rig on standby would cost the company an additional $250 million a year.

Both Shell and ConocoPhillips are taking issue with another of the proposed rules, a potential ban on the use of highly toxic chemical dispersants in favor of booms, skimmers, and other physical equipment to contain spilled oil.

In a presentation to the OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, Shell argued: “A 100 percent mechanical requirement leads to increasing costs and environmental impacts — less recovery of oil — as operators enter plays with higher daily worst-case discharges.”

Studies have shown that while dispersants can help prevent oil from washing ashore and may protect surface-dwelling sea life, it can have serious impacts on marine life living below the surface.

Sat, 2014-06-14 12:35Guest
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Why Are Pipeline Spills Good For the Economy?

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This is a guest post by David Suzuki.

Energy giant Kinder Morgan was recently called insensitive for pointing out that “Pipeline spills can have both positive and negative effects on local and regional economies, both in the short- and long-term.” The company wants to triple its shipping capacity from the Alberta tar sands to Burnaby, in part by twinning its current pipeline. Its National Energy Board submission states, “Spill response and cleanup creates business and employment opportunities for affected communities, regions, and cleanup service providers.”

It may seem insensitive, but it’s true. And that’s the problem. Destroying the environment is bad for the planet and all the life it supports, including us. But it’s often good for business. The 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico added billions to the U.S. gross domestic product! Even if a spill never occurred (a big “if”, considering the records of Kinder Morgan and other pipeline companies), increasing capacity from 300,000 to 890,000 barrels a day would go hand-in-hand with rapid tar sands expansion and more wasteful, destructive burning of fossil fuels — as would approval of Enbridge Northern Gateway and other pipeline projects, as well as increased oil shipments by rail.

Wed, 2014-04-23 17:40Stephen Leahy
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Critics Concerned Pipelines, Tankers Reason for Downgrading "Threatened" Status of Humpback Whales

humpback whale mike baird

This week the federal government was legally obligated to establish protected habitat for threatened North Pacific humpback whales. Instead the Harper government suddenly moved to take the humpback off the “threatened species” list. That would eliminate the legal requirement under Canada’s Species At Risk Act for protecting habitat along the British Columbia coast.

The government based the downgrade on a recommendation made by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), the independent scientific body that designates which wildlife species are in trouble, in 2011.

Critics have noted the decision eliminates a major obstacle to both the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline and the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. After the conditional approval of the Northern Gateway pipeline by the National Energy Board's joint review panel, the University of Victoria Environmental Law Centre launched a legal complaint on behalf of B.C. Nature requesting the government's recovery strategy for humpback whales be taken into consideration.

A federal recovery strategy for humpback whales on the B.C. coast released in October cited potential increased oil tanker traffic as a danger to dwindling populations. The recovery strategy, released after a five-year delay, also noted the danger toxic spills posed to critical habitat.

If built, the two pipeline projects would increase oil tanker traffic from eight to 28 per month, increasing the risks of collisions with whales, potential spills in vital habitat and excessive noise.

Mon, 2014-03-24 09:01Julie Dermansky
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Imperiled Migratory Birds in Path of Galveston Oil Spill on Anniversary of Exxon Valdez Disaster

Heavy fuel oil that spilled from a Kirby Inland Marine oil barge after it collided with a cargo ship on March 22, began washing up on Galveston Bay's shoreline on Sunday. The Coast Guard received its first reports of impacted birds by Sunday afternoon and the Houston Chronicle published a photo of a duck on the beach covered in oil.

There are shorebird habitats on both sides of the shipping channel, including the Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary

Richard Gibbons, conservation director of the Houston Audubon Society, told the Associated Press that the Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary attracts 50,000 to 70,000 shorebirds to its shallow mud flats perfect for foraging.

The timing really couldn't be much worse since we're approaching the peak shorebird migration season,” Gibbons said. He added that tens of thousands of wintering birds remain in the area.

Thu, 2014-02-20 11:46Carol Linnitt
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CNRL Releases New, Lower Cold Lake Oil Spill Estimates

bitumen emulsion oil spill at CNRL Primrose CSS site in the Alberta oilsands

The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) has released new figures tallying the total volume of bitumen emulsion recovered at the Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. (CNRL) Primrose site in Cold Lake, Alta. The new total — 1,177 cubic metres or 1.1 million litres — is more than a third lower than previously reported amounts.

An earlier incident report from November 14, 2013, states more than 1,878 cubic metres of emulsion was recovered at the four separate release sites, where the mixture of bitumen and water had been leaking uncontrollably into the surrounding environment for several months without explanation. That's enough liquid to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool three-quarters of the way full.

CNRL's July 31, 2013, statement (pdf), released to investors just over one month after the leaks were reported to the AER, said that within the first month of cleanup, 1,000 cubic metres of bitumen emulsion had been collected.

Scientist Kevin Timoney, who's authored several reports on the CNRL leaks, said the reported figures just don't add up.

The bottom line is, how do you go from essentially 1,900 cubic metres, which is what you get if you listen to the president of CNRL when he was talking in January, down to 1,177 cubic metres. How does that happen?” Timoney said. “And nobody has answered that.”

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