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Fri, 2014-05-02 10:42Judith Lavoie
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U.S. Officials Search For Answers On Bitumen Spills As Canada Eyes Enbridge, Kinder Morgan Oil Pipelines

EPA sampling during Enbridge bitumen spill

U.S officials are struggling to figure out how bitumen from the Alberta oilsands will behave if there is a spill either from a pipeline or into the Salish Sea, the fragile ocean environment between Canada and the U.S.

As the U.S. debates the future of the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport Alberta oil to the Gulf Coast, and Canada looks at Kinder Morgan's proposed twinning of the Trans Mountain pipeline and the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway project, there is a growing urgency to find out how diluted bitumen behaves if there is a spill, said scientists, policy makers and environmentalists gathered in Seattle for the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference this week.

“Does it float or not float? That's the question,” said Gary Shigenaka, marine biologist with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) hazardous materials response division, flashing a picture of thick, black bitumen extracted from the oilsands.

NOAA is studying the behaviour of bitumen and the diluent with which it is mixed to make the peanut-butter like substance flow through pipelines, but, so far, there are few concrete answers, Shigenaka said.

Studies show that although diluted bitumen — dilbit — initially floats in water, it sinks when it is mixed with sediment, which would happen in high turbulence or in areas such as a river estuary, Shigenaka said.

Fears about the behaviour of bitumen in water have been growing since the 2010 spill of about 3.2 million litres (843,000 gallons) of thick crude into a tributary of the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. It was the first spill of diluted bitumen from Alberta into a waterway, and agencies struggled to cope with a substance that released toxic fumes from the diluent and then sank as the bitumen mixed with river sediment.

Wed, 2014-04-16 11:44Guest
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Washington Gov. Jay Inslee Hires Coal Lobbyist to Direct Policy Office

This is a guest post by Eric de Place, originally published on Sightline Daily and cross-posted with the Sightline Institute's permission.

In a classic instance of the revolving door between government and industry, Governor Inslee has decided to hire Matt Steuerwalt as the director of his policy office effective May 1. In recent years, Steuerwalt has acted as a lead lobbyist for coal-fired power in Washington, as well as for a now-defunct coal export proposal. The news was first announced by Steuerwalt in a mass email sent last night.

The state is now wrestling with two major policy issues connected to coal: whether to permitlarge-scale coal export terminals and whether to phase out coal-fired electricity imported from other states. Given that Steuerwalt has recently been a paid lobbyist in support of coal in Washington, the move raises question about whether he will use his influence in the Inslee administration to advance an agenda more favorable to the coal industry.

Steuerwalt was formerly Gov. Gregoire’s top advisor on energy and climate issues, but he left the Gregoire administration to go to work for Strategies 360, a well-connected lobbying and PR shop. He then led negotiations against his former employer on behalf of TransAlta, a giant Canadian energy company that was wrangling with the Gregoire administration over plans to ramp down coal-burning at its power plant in Centralia. He also lobbied on behalf of TransAlta in both the House and Senate.

Wed, 2014-01-08 09:12Guest
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Is the Smart Money Bailing on Northwest Coal Exports? Goldman Sachs Sells Stake in SSA Marine

This is a guest post by Eric de Place, originally published at Sightline Daily.

The news is everywhere: finance titan Goldman Sachs is selling off its stake in SSA Marine, the would-be coal exporter of Whatcom County. (To be precise, Goldman Sachs Infrastructure Partners, a subsidiary of the big firm, is selling its stake in FRS Capital Corp and Carrix, the parent companies that house SSA.) Many see the move as a major bet against the economic viability of Northwest coal export schemes.

Though it is important to remember that SSA Marine is a big company with a range of port terminal holdings around the globe, there is evidence for believing that the sale is connected to worries about coal.

As usual, Crosscut’s Floyd McKay has some of the best coverage:

Thu, 2012-05-03 12:01Ben Jervey
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Exporting Coal: Struggling U.S. Coal Industry Trying to Stay Relevant By Shipping Through the Northwest

coal train exporting coal pacific northwest

U.S. coal companies are facing some tricky math these days. Production levels have remained more or less the same since 2005, according to the Energy Information Agency (EIA), but during that time domestic consumption has dropped nearly 11 percent.

Where is all that extra coal going? Some is piling up at power plants, but increasingly, more and more of it is being shipped overseas.

The coal industry is hoping to accelerate that export trend, but their ability to keep delivering steady volumes of coal is entirely dependant on their ability to open up new export terminals at coastal ports around the country, particularly in the Pacific Northwest where the dirty rock could be more directly shipped to the burgeoning Asian markets.  

Still, aside from some regional coverage and some incredible work from organizations like the Sightline Institute and Climate Solutions, these Northwest export terminals aren’t getting nearly the amount of attention from environmentalists and climate activists as, say, tar sands pipelines.

This post will serve as a basic overview of the current state of coal production and exports, and what the industry hopes to accomplish in coming years.

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