Fri, 2014-08-08 11:09Justin Mikulka
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Regulators Ignore One Proven Way to Eliminate Bakken Bomb Trains: Oil Stabilization

On the same day that the Obama administration released long-awaited new safety regulations for the oil-by-rail industry, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) released another report with their testing results for Bakken crude oil. The conclusion reached by PHMSA is that Bakken crude oil “is more volatile than most other types of crude.” 

These results don’t come as a surprise since the five oil trains that have crashed and exploded in the last year all were carrying Bakken crude.  

Of course, the new regulations released imultaneously do not require the oil industry to do the one thing that would eliminate this problem: oil stabilization. A well known and proven method for removing the natural gas liquids from crude oil that makes the oil “stable” and non-explosive.

While the new regulations do not offer any proposals to require the oil industry to remove the volatile components of Bakken crude, on page 144 of the proposal they do acknowledge that this is possible. They request comments on the following question:

Is the current exception for combustible liquids sufficient to incentivize producers to reduce the volatility of crude oil for continued use of existing tank cars?

Essentially they are acknowledging that if the industry stabilized the oil it wouldn’t be explosive and thus they would be able to continue to use the existing DOT-111 rail cars to transport it. Just like those tank cars will be able to transport Alberta tar sands oil because it is not explosive.

The week before the release of the new regulations, the American Petroleum Institute and the American Association of Railroads released a joint statement stating that they were in agreement on two things that shouldn’t be part of the finalized new regulations — lower train speeds and mandatory stabilization. And while the proposed regulations do offer some requirements for lower trains speeds, they include nothing about mandatory stabilization.

Fri, 2014-08-08 05:00Steve Horn
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Green Billionaires Club? David Vitter Owns Stock in Coal Utilities Fighting EPA Carbon Rules

On July 30, the Republican minority of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, headed by Sen. David Vitter, released a report titled “The Chain of Environmental Command: How a Club of Billionaires and Their Foundations Control the Environmental Movement and Obama’s EPA.”

Critics of the report say it is propaganda designed to skewer the Obama EPA and environmental philanthropists for “conspiring to help the environment.”

Vitter's chief source of campaign cash is the oil and gas industry and he recently called the billionaire Koch Brothers “two of the most patriotic Americans in the history of the Earth.” 

What the 92-page report leaves out is that Vitter — an esteemed member of the Senate “Millionaires Club” — owns tens of thousands of dollars in stocks of the electric utility Wisconsin Energy Corporation (We Energies), which owns major coal-fired power plants in both Oak Creek, Wisc. and Pleasant Prairie, Wisc.

We Energies says it stands to lose economically if the proposed Obama EPA carbon rules are implemented, citing the potential risks related to legislation and regulation in its most recent U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Form 10-Q.

“Any legislation or regulation that may ultimately be adopted, either at the federal or state level, designed to reduce GHG emissions could have a material adverse impact on our electric generation and natural gas distribution operations,” We Energies stated on the form.

“Such regulation could make some of our electric generating units uneconomic to maintain or operate, and could adversely affect our future results of operations.”

We Energies CEO Gale Klappa also voiced dissatisfaction with the proposed rule during his company's most recent earnings call, saying the company will submit comment to the EPA as part of the public comment period.

Thu, 2014-08-07 10:56Mike G
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Four Years Later, Systemic Failures That Led To Gas Pipeline Explosion Revealed

Last Monday, the mayor of San Bruno stood on the steps of the California Public Utilities Commission offices in San Francisco and called for a complete overhaul of the state agency, including the firing of key CPUC officials.

The next day, a federal grand jury indicted PG&E on charges related to its handling of the 2010 natural gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno that destroyed 38 homes and killed eight people.

Mayor Jim Ruane says that emails exchanged between staff at the CPUC and employees of PG&E in the wake of the disaster show that a far-too-cozy relationship exists between the state agency and the public utility it is supposed to regulate.

PG&E has made illegal efforts to influence the CPUC decisions makers to protect the utility's financial interests,” Ruane said. “Sadly and shockingly, the CPUC has participated in the illegal conduct.”

Some 7,000 pages of emails were released to San Bruno by the CPUC only after the city filed a lawsuit to gain access to the documents.

City manager Connie Jackson says that the emails provide further evidence to support the official conclusions of the investigation carried out by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

“The NTSB produced a report within one year of the explosion that exhaustively demonstrated a number of conclusions and recommendations for correction in the wake of the explosion,” Jackson says. “And among the things they identified as a key causal factor related to the explosion was what they described as a too-cozy relationship between the regulator and the utility. These emails demonstrate that that is in fact true.”

Specifically, Jackson says that CPUC President Mike Peevey engaged in illegal ex parte communications with PG&E. “We are continuing to call for the removal, or minimally the recusal, of President Peevey,” Jackson says.

Peevey is not alone in being implicated for having engaged in illegal communications with PG&E employees who were responsible for the company's response to the disaster. As KTVU reported, one email, “from no less than PG&E's head of regulatory relations to a CPUC administrative law judge, ends with 'love you.'”

Wed, 2014-08-06 16:56Farron Cousins
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NRDC Action Fund Working To Hold Climate Change Deniers Accountable

Before members of Congress departed Washington, D.C. for their month-long August recess, senators attempted one final vote on a resolution that did nothing more than state that the Senate accepts the science on climate change.  Noted science-denying Republican James Inhofe blocked the resolution, which required a unanimous vote by Senators in order to pass.

Thus, the resolution failed, but not before Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse issued a stirring rebuttal to Inhofe’s claims of climate change being a hoax:

While a few people like Senator Whitehouse are fighting the good fight from inside the system itself, they still need help from the outside in order to hold climate change deniers and environmental polluters accountable.  The NRDC Action Fund has stepped in to back them up this summer.

While members of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate are out campaigning during their recess, the NRDC Action Fund has launched a “Dirty Denier$” campaign that will feature a different member of Congress every day. 

Wed, 2014-08-06 10:16Graham Readfearn
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Michael Mann's Opponents In Hockey Stick Defamation Case Regurgitate Half-Truths In New Court Filing

Michael Mann

Put up your hand if you’ve been a follower of news about climate change in recent years and haven’t heard of the “hockey stick” graph.

Nobody?  No, didn’t think so.

These graphs get their name because of their shape. 

They are reconstructions of the temperatures on Earth over several centuries to several millennia and they all have a repetitive tendency to turn sharply skyward showing the recent rapid warming of the Earth.

The most famous and first “hockey stick” came from research in the journal Nature in 1998 led by Professor Michael Mann, then of the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Mann used historical data from tree rings and ice cores – known as “proxy records” - to determine what temperatures were like over the Northern Hemisphere over the 600 years or so before we had a reasonably well-dispersed network of thermometers.

When plotted on a chart… well, you know the rest.  It looked like a hockey stick.

Mann followed up that work in 1999, refining the research for a study in Geophysical Research Letters to give a full 1000-year history of the planet’s temperatures.

His work appeared in the 2001 United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report.  This is what it looked liked in that report (notice the red and blue colors - we'll come to that in a bit.)


  

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