oil sands

Explosive Virginia Train Carried Fracked Bakken Oil, Headed to Potential Export Facility

Platts confirmed CSX Corporation's train that exploded in Lynchburg, Virginia was carrying sweet crude obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in North Dakota's Bakken Shale basin. CSX CEO Michael Ward has also confirmed this to Bloomberg.

“Trade sources said the train was carrying Bakken crude from North Dakota and was headed to Plains All American's terminal in Yorktown,” Platts explained. “The Yorktown facility can unload 130,000 b/d of crude and is located on the site of Plains oil product terminal.”

In January, the U.S. Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration issued a Safety Alert concluding Bakken crude is more flammable than heavier oils. Hence the term “bomb trains.”

At least 50,000 gallons of the oil headed to Yorktown is now missing, according to ABC 13 in Lynchburg. Some of it has spilled into the James River, as previously reported on DeSmogBlog.

A map available on CSX's website displaying the routes for its crude-by-rail trains offers a clear indication of where the train was headed.


Map Credit: CSX Corporation

Formerly a refinery owned by Standard Oil and then BP/Amoco, Plains All American has turned the Yorktown refinery into a mega holding facility. 

Yorktown may become a key future site for crude oil exports if the ban on exports of oil produced domestically in the U.S. is lifted. 

TransCanada Charitable Fund Launches Keystone XL "Good Neighbor" Charm Offensive

TransCanada has taken a page out of former U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's playbook and deployed a public relations “charm offensive” in Texas, home of the southern leg of its Keystone XL tar sands pipeline now known as the Gulf Coast Pipeline Project.

In the 1930s and 1940s, Roosevelt utilized a “good neighbor policy“ — conceptualized today as “soft power” by U.S. foreign policy practitioners — to curry favor in Latin America and win over its public. Recently, TransCanada announced it would do something similar in Texas with its newly formed TransCanada Charitable Fund.

TransCanada has pledged $125,000 to 18 Texas counties over the next four years, funds it channeled through the East Texas Communities Foundation. In February, the company announced the first non-profit recipients of its initial $50,000 grant cycle.  

“The fund is designed to help improve East Texas communities and the lives of their residents through grants to qualifying non-profit organizations in the counties where TransCanada pipeline operations and projects exist,” explained a press release. “All funded projects and programs fall within three charitable categories: community, safety, and the environment.”

TransCanada utilizes the “good neighbor” language in deploying its own public relations pitch.

“At TransCanada, being a good neighbor and contributing to communities is an integral part of our success,” TransCanada's Corey Goulet said in a press release. “The establishment of the fund is another example of our commitment to long-term community investment and our dedication to the people of East Texas.”

Mayflower: Deadly Tornado Sweeps Through Arkansas Town That Endured ExxonMobil Tar Sands Pipeline Spill in 2013

On March 29, 2013, ExxonMobil's Pegasus tar sands pipeline ruptured in Mayflower, Arkansas, sending hundreds of thousands of gallons of diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) pouring down the town's streets.

Now, just over a year after the massive spill, devastation has come to Mayflower and neighboring towns again, this time in the form of a lethal tornado. On the evening of April 27, the twister destroyed huge pockets of the town of just over 2,300 citizens in a wholesale manner, with 14 confirmed dead and likely many more still not counted.

“Sadly, we don't expect it to stay at 14,” tweeted Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe. At least 10 died in Faulkner County alone, which houses Mayflower, according to the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management.

The National Weather Service in Little Rock has given the tornado that hit Mayflower an EF-3 rating on a preliminary basis. EF3 (the highest rating is an EF5) equates to 136–165 mile per hour winds and KATV weatherman Todd Yakoubian tweeted that National Weather Service will have its final rating in by April 30.

Table Credit: Wikimedia Commons

On the whole, Arkansas Geographic Information Office has reported that 3,200 addresses in Faulkner County have had various levels of impact.

Earth Day Greenwash: API Front Group Iowa Energy Forum Sponsors Pro-Keystone XL Event

The political carnival that is the prelude to the Iowa caucuses has started over a year and a half early. At the center of it this time around: a game of political hot potato over the northern leg of TransCanada's Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

American Petroleum Institute (API) deployed one of its paid consultants — former Obama Administration National Security Advisor General James “Jim” Jones — to deliver an Earth Day address in the home state of the presidential caucuses at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.

James Jones used his time on the podium to promote the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, which another James — retired NASA climatologist James Hansen — once called a “fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the planet.”

“General James Jones…will discuss the benefits of the pipeline initiative, including more jobs, less dependence on foreign oil, and cheaper energy costs for Americans,” explained an April 15 Drake University press release promoting the event.


Gen. James Jones; Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Days after the Obama Administration decided to delay making a decision on Keystone XL North until after the 2014 mid-term elections, API went on the offensive, with Jones acting as the group's surrogate.

API is using one of its numerous front groups that could factor most prominently during election season: the Iowa Energy Forum, chief sponsor and organizer of the event titled, “The Pipeline to National Security Discussion.”

Keystone XL Review Extended, Delaying Final Decision Until After 2014 Elections

Reuters and Politico broke a major story today that TransCanada's northern leg of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will not be decided on until after the 2014 mid-term elections.

“The U.S. State Department will…extend the government comment period on the Keystone XL pipeline, likely postponing a final decision on the controversial project until after the November 4 midterm elections,” Reuters explained.

Secretary of State John Kerry and President Barack Obama have final say over whether the pipeline will be built because it crosses the U.S.-Canada border.

Reporters learned of the decision after a call between high-level congressional staff and State Department officials. 

“The justification is the need to wait on continued litigation over a Nebraska court decision earlier this year, which threw part of the project’s route in doubt, two sources said today after a call between the State Department and congressional staff,” reported Politico.

In the end, the decision came down to politics, according to Politico, though there are no shortage of climate change and ecological concerns for the prospective pipeline.

“A delay past November would spare Obama a politically difficult decision on whether to approve the pipeline, angering his green base and environmentally minded campaign donors — or reject it, endangering pro-pipeline Democrats,” they reported.

ANR Pipeline: Introducing TransCanada's Keystone XL for Fracking

When most environmentalists and folks who follow pipeline markets think of TransCanada, they think of the proposed northern half of its Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. 

Flying beneath the public radar, though, is another TransCanada-proposed pipeline with a similar function as Keystone XL. But rather than for carrying tar sands bitumen to the Gulf Coast, this pipeline would bring to market shale gas obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”).

Meet TransCanada's ANR Pipeline System.

Although not actually a new pipeline system, TransCanada wants ANR retooled to serve domestic and export markets for gas fracked from the Marcellus Shale basin and the Utica Shale basin via its Southeast Main Line. 

“The [current Southeast Main Line] moves gas from south Louisiana (including offshore) to Michigan where it has a strong market presence,” explains a March 27 article appearing in industry publication RBN Energy


Map Credit: RBN Energy

BP Lake Michigan Oil Spill: Did Tar Sands Spill into the Great Lake?

Is it conventional crude or tar sands? That is the question. And it's one with high stakes, to boot. 

The BP Whiting refinery in Indiana spilled between 470 and 1228 gallons of oil (or is it tar sands?) into Lake Michigan on March 24 and four days later no one really knows for sure what type of crude it was. Most signs, however, point to tar sands. 

The low-hanging fruit: the refinery was recently retooled as part of its “modernization project,” which will “provide Whiting with the capability of processing up to about 85% heavy crude, versus about 20% today.”

As Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Midwest Program Director Henry Henderson explained in a 2010 article, “heavy crude [is] code for tar sands.”

Albeit, “heavy crude” is produced in places other than Alberta's tar sands, with Venezuela serving as the world's other tar sands-producing epicenter. So, in theory, if it's heavy crude that spilled into Lake Michigan, it could be from Venezuela.

But in practice, the facts on the ground tell a different story. As a January 2014 article in Bloomberg outlined, the combination of the U.S. hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) boom and the Canadian tar sands boom has brought U.S. imports of Venezuelan oil to 28-year lows.

Which brings us to the next question: how does the Canadian “heavy crude” get to BP's Whiting refinery to begin with? Enter: Enbridge's Line 6A pipeline.

BP Doubles Initial Size Estimate of Lake Michigan Oil Spill

Three days after spilling crude oil into Lake Michigan, BP has doubled its spill estimate to between 470 and 1228 gallons. The leak happened at its refinery in Whiting, Ind.

Although some of the oil has been cleaned up, it's unclear how much is left in the lake, a drinking water source for about seven million Chicagoans.

Located just across the Illinois-Indiana state border, Whiting is home to the sixth largest refinery in the U.S. The refinery just went through a $4 billionmodernization project,” giving it “the capability of processing up to about 85 percent heavy crude.” That's up from its original 20 percent, says BP's website.

“Frigid temperatures caused some of the oil to harden into a waxy consistency that made it easier to collect,” BP spokesman Scott Dean told The Chicago Tribune. “Crews used vacuum trucks to suck up any liquid oil that washed ashore.”

The day after the spill, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), as well as U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and U.S. Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) issued press releases in which they pledged to hold BP accountable for the spill. Durbin and Kirk also wrote a follow-up letter to BP, requesting a meeting with BP.

“Any unanticipated spill is cause for concern, but given the Whiting refinery’s recent expansion of its operations to double the amount of heavy oil sands being processed, this spill raises questions about the long-term safety and reliability of BP's new, expanded production at Whiting,” they wrote

General James Jones Didn't Disclose Industry Ties Before Testimony at Keystone XL Hearing

The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing today (March 13) on the U.S. State Department's national interest determination for the northern half of the proposed TransCanada Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. 

Four witnesses will testify: Keystone XL proponent Karen Alderman Harbert, the president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for 21st Century Energy; retired NASA climatologist James Hansen, an adjunct professor at Columbia University's Earth Institute and Keystone XL opponent; and Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune, another critic of the Keystone XL

And then there's James Jones. He's set to testify on behalf of the pipeline, with his affiliation listed as President of Jones Group International. He won't be testifying at the request of the committee's Democrats, but rather its Republicans, even though he formerly served as national security advisor to President Barack Obama.

Described as offering “high level advisory and consulting services in the areas of international energy policy,” Jones Group — which doesn't list its clients — is far from Jones' only career gig.

A DeSmogBlog investigation has revealed Jones has several oil and gas industry ties that weren't disclosed to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee before the hearing.

Among other ties, BuzzFeed recently revealed Jones currently serves as a consultant for the American Petroleum Institute (API), which has spent over $22 million lobbying on behalf of Keystone XL since 2008. Environmental Resources Management, Inc. (ERM Group) — the contractor chosen by the State Department to conduct the environmental review for the pipeline — is an API member.

Friends of the Earth made a public call to Jones to reveal his client list ahead of his Senate testimony.

“Our representatives in Congress have a right to learn all of the pertinent facts about the Keystone XL pipeline unfiltered by corporate special interests,” reads the letter. “Disclosing all relevant payments from interests advocating for or against the pipeline will help our representatives decide how to balance the competing information they are sure to receive.”

Below are some of Jones' clients, revealed by a DeSmogBlog investigation.

Canadian Company Called U.S. Oil Sands Will Soon Start Extracting Utah's Tar Sands

Think only Canadians need to worry about tar sands extraction? Think again.

In October, U.S. Oil Sands, Inc. joined Kentucky-based Arrakis Oil Recovery as the second company to receive a permit to produce U.S. tar sands. The Utah Water Quality Board gave U.S. Oil Sands a permit to extract 2,000 barrels of oil per day from Utah's tar sands reserves. 

Despite its name, U.S. Oil Sands is actually a Canadian outfit based in Calgary, Alberta. The company currently holds leases on just over 32,000 acres in Utah's Uintah Basin. U.S. Oil Sands' mining will take place at PR Spring on the Colorado Plateau in an area called the Bookcliffs, which straddles the Utah/Colorado border.  

U.S. Oil Sands' water-and-energy-intensive extraction process involves first digging up congealed tar sands, then crushing them to reduce their size. The company then mixes the crushed sand with large amounts of hot water (at a temperature of 122-176°F) to loosen up and liquefy the tarry, oil-containing residue and separating it from the sand.

Next, coarse solids sink, are subsequently removed and considered waste tailings. Air is then bubbled through the remaining water-oil mixture, which makes the oil float to the top in what's referred to as “bitumen froth,” in industry lingo. The froth is then deaerated, meaning all the air molecules are removed.

When it finally gets to this point in the production process, the mixture is still so thick it can't be pumped through pipelines.

Thus, it undergoes even more treatment with a hydrocarbon solvent to reduce the viscosity and density of the sludge. Wastes from the process — which contain water contaminated with chemicals and unrecoverable oils — are called “middlings” and will be disposed of in surface tailings ponds and kept long-term.

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