refineries

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.

Tue, 2014-03-18 06:00Sharon Kelly
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A Record Year of Oil Train Accidents Leaves Insurers Wary

Spurred by the shale drilling rush that has progressed at breakneck speed, the railroad industry has moved fast to help drillers transport petroleum and its byproducts to consumers. Last year, trains hauled over 400,000 carloads of crude oil, up from just 9,500 carloads in 2008, according to railroad industry estimates.  Each carload represents roughly 30,000 gallons of flammable liquids, and some trains haul over 100 oil cars at a time.

But with this fast expansion has come some astounding risks — risks that have insurance companies and underwriters increasingly concerned.

A string of oil train explosions have highlighted the potential for harm. A train hauling 2.9 million gallons of Bakken oil derailed and exploded on November 8 in Aliceville, Alabama, and the oil that leaked but did not burn continues to foul the wetlands in the area.

On December 30th, a train collision in Casselton, North Dakota 20 miles outside of Fargo, prompted a mass evacuation of over half the town’s residents after 18 cars exploded into fireballs visible for miles. 400,000 gallons of oil spilled after that accident, which involved two trains traveling well below local speed limits.

Those crashes are all on the radar of the insurance industry,” attorney Dean Hansell recently told Law360.

All told, railcar accidents spilled more than 1.15 million gallons of crude oil in 2013, federal data shows, compared with an average of just 22,000 gallons a year from 1975 through 2012 — a fifty-fold spike.

Mon, 2013-11-18 05:00Sharon Kelly
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George W. Bush on Keystone XL: "Build the Damn Thing"

Make private companies happy. Don’t worry about the environment. Stop fretting about long-term sustainability. Forget renewables, property concerns, the safety of our water and air. Make private companies happy.

This was the 43rd president's message to the current administration at the DUG East conference held by the shale gas industry on Thursday.

With characteristic bluntness, George W. Bush spoke his mind on energy policy to several thousand oil and gas executives gathered in Pittsburgh at an exclusive luncheon on Wednesday.

“I think the goal of the country ought to be 'how do we grow the private sector?'” Mr. Bush said. “That ought to be the laser-focus of any administration. And therefore, once that’s the goal, an issue like Keystone pipeline becomes a no-brainer.”

“If private sector growth is the goal and Keystone pipeline creates 20,000 new private sector jobs, build the damn thing,” Mr. Bush said, prompting a burst of applause from the more than 4,000 oil and gas executives attending the conference.

In his candor, Mr. Bush also highlighted the essence of what burns bright but short in the fossil-fuel doctrine.

In emphasizing a get-it-now, don’t-worry-about-the-future approach to energy, he drove home why the Keystone XL pipeline has become such a lightning rod issue. The reason: it is symbolic of the overall short-sightedness of increasing our long-term addiction to oil rather than pushing with urgency toward renewable energy.

Fri, 2013-05-24 05:00Caroline Selle
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Is Houston a Tar Sands “Sacrifice Zone”?

This is a guest post by Caroline Selle

Much of the debate around the Keystone XL pipeline has focused on the dangers of extracting and transporting the tar sands. Left out, however, are those in the United States who are
guaranteed to feel the impacts of increased tar sands usage. Spill or no spill, anyone living near a tar sands refinery will bear the burden of the refining process.

Tar sands oil is produced from a mixture of sand, clay, water, and the sticky, peanut-butter like form of petroleum known as bitumen. Unlike conventional crude, it’s essentially solid at room temperature, has a higher heavy metal content, and has to be diluted for transport. The diluents are trade secrets, and the content mixture - which often contains benzene, a human carcinogen - isn’t something companies are required to report.

DeSmogBlog has covered the impacts of tar sands extraction on indigenous communities, and the dangers of moving tar sands through a network of pipelines is aptly covered here. And while major nonprofits have completed studies on the dangers of transporting tar sands, there is significantly less information available on how refining tar sands differs from processing conventional crude.

Additional heavy metals and benzene might sound like a recipe for disaster anywhere, but the location of several major tar sands refineries is already overburdened with pollutants. In Harris County, Texas – home to the city of Houston – people are already surrounded by refineries and factories spewing toxic pollution into the air. And as the southern leg of the Keystone XL project slowly fills in its missing pieces, the spectre of toxic bitumen looms.

Tue, 2013-01-22 12:52Carol Linnitt
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Oil Change International: The Coal Hiding in the Tar Sands

Thanks to Alberta's tar sands, coal-powered energy production just got cheaper, and dirtier.

That is largely due to an often overlooked byproduct of bitumen upgrading: petroleum coke. The byproduct, commonly referred to as petcoke, is derived from the excess heavy hydrocarbons necessarily processed out of bitumen in the production of lighter liquid fuels like gasoline and diesel. The leftover condensed byproduct, petcoke, bears a striking resemblance to coal, and is being integrated into coal power plants across the US and internationally, contributing a tremendous amount of carbon emissions to the tar sands price tag that has been previously unaccounted for.

That is, until the research group Oil Change International released a research report that calculates the use of petcoke in American energy generation increases the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline's emissions by a staggering 13 percent. 

Wed, 2011-11-09 06:00Ben Jervey
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Valero Positioning To Export Tar Sands Oil, Guarding Pot of Gold at End of Keystone XL Pipeline

In the heated Keystone XL debate, the Canadian company TransCanada, which is attempting to build the line, and the Koch brothers, who are throwing their considerable weight behind it in the interest of their Koch Industries’ subsidiaries, receive a lot of attention.
 

But there are other benefactors that are worth a closer look, as nobody stands to benefit as much in the longer term (if the Keystone XL pipeline is ever built) as the companies that operate the refineries on the Gulf Coast.

Let’s step back and review what the refineries actually do. The diluted tar sands bitumen (or “DilBit”) that would flow through Keystone XL is an ultra-acidic, highly viscous mess, that doesn’t at all resemble the refined petroleum products like diesel or gasoline or even jet fuel that are sold on the commercial markets. DilBit is, in the words of Keith Schneider, ”thick as peanut butter and more acidic, highly corrosive, and abrasive” than typical crude.

This tar sands DilBit needs to be refined before it can be sold. But only certain refineries are capable of handling the corrosive DilBit.

Refiners along the Texas Gulf Coast, where the Keystone XL pipeline would ultimately deliver tar sands DilBit from Canada, are eager to accomodate. The company that appears positioned to receive and refine more of TransCanada’s crude than anyone else is the Valero Energy Corporation (NYSE: VLO).

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