Justin Nobel

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Justin Nobel writes on issues of science and the environment for Rolling Stone and has a book on oil and gas radioactivity forthcoming with Simon & Schuster entitled PETROLEUM-238: Big Oil’s Dangerous Secret and the Grassroots Fight to Stop It.

After Second Deadly Crash, Regulators Say Trucks Leaking Fracked Gas Cargo Are Fine

Read time: 6 mins
Virtual pipeline truck crash near Orange, Massachusetts

Last Friday, October 11, a “Virtual Pipeline” truck carrying compressed natural gas crashed on a highway in Orange, Massachusetts, killing the driver, leaking the potent greenhouse gas methane into the atmosphere, and leading local authorities to evacuate nearby residents. 

Let me put this in perspective, if one of these trucks blew up in the right conditions, it could destroy a neighborhood,” said Bill Huston, director of a research and advocacy program called Terra Vigilate, and one of a small group of advocates raising awareness about the extreme risks of fire and explosion of Virtual Pipeline trucks. “We have called every state and federal agency, we have called the news media, and nobody is responding. These trucks are a brand-new technology, and nearly entirely unregulated — it’s very frustrating.”

This was the second Virtual Pipeline truck crash within three weeks in which the driver was killed and the special cylinders containing the gas, which can be highly explosive, were compromised. It’s part of a string of accidents that a retired state regulator says indicates the vehicles may be violating a federal exemption allowing the trucks to operate, but which federal regulators have disputed.

Whistleblower Reveals Flawed Construction at North Dakota Gas Plants Where Massive Spill Was Downplayed

Read time: 11 mins
Paul Lehto

Two North Dakota gas processing plants in the heart of the Bakken oil fields have shown signs of an eroded safety culture and startling construction problems, according to Paul Lehto, a 54-year-old former gas plant operator who has come out as a whistleblower. He described worrisome conditions at the Lonesome Creek plant, in Alexander, and the Garden Creek plant, in Watford City, where DeSmog recently revealed one of the largest oil and gas industry spills in U.S. history had occurred. Both plants process natural gas brought via pipeline from Bakken wells and are run by the Oklahoma-based oil and gas service company, ONEOK Partners.

The safety culture is embarrassing,” said Lehto, who has described to DeSmog the discovery of dozens of loose bolts along critical sections of piping, and other improperly set equipment, deficiencies he attributes to the frenzied rush of the oil boom that has dominated the state’s landscape and economy. “North Dakota is basically a Petrostate,” said Lehto, who worked at the two plants between 2015 and 2016. “There is regulatory capture, and sure that happens in other areas, but nowhere is it more extreme than in North Dakota.”

Another Virtual Pipeline Truck Carrying Fracked Gas Crashes in New York. Local Climate Advocates Demand Urgent Action

Read time: 6 mins
XNG virtual pipeline truck crash in New York

On Monday around 1:00 a.m., a “Virtual Pipeline” truck carrying compressed natural gas mined from the Marcellus Shale crashed on Interstate 88 near Binghamton, New York, after the vehicle swerved to avoid deer, flipped over, and fatally ejected 52-year-old driver Jeffrey Lind. The truck’s container system began leaking compressed methane gas, a potent greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere. Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency in Broome County, where the crash occurred.

Did North Dakota Regulators Hide an Oil and Gas Industry Spill Larger Than Exxon Valdez?

Read time: 15 mins
Exxon Valdez

In July 2015 workers at the Garden Creek I Gas Processing Plant, in Watford City, North Dakota, noticed a leak in a pipeline and reported a spill to the North Dakota Department of Health that remains officially listed as 10 gallons, the size of two bottled water delivery jugs.

But a whistle-blower has revealed to DeSmog the incident is actually on par with the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, which released roughly 11 million gallons of thick crude.

Virtual Pipelines: A Dangerous New Way to Transport Fracked Gas by Truck

Read time: 9 mins
XNG rollover in Hartwick, New York in 2017

For several years a mysterious fleet of tractor trailers loaded with natural gas cylinders has been crisscrossing U.S. roads, and in the dark early morning hours on Sunday, March 3, one drove off a highway near Cobleskill, New York, careened down an embankment, and flipped over. The driver had fallen asleep, according to a New York State police accident report, the truck was demolished, and “several tanks ruptured and were leaking” natural gas. Five nearby homes were evacuated.

For retired New York Department of Transportation commercial vehicle inspector Ron Barton, an alarm bell he had been ringing for months suddenly grew even more urgent. “This is a catastrophe waiting to happen,” says Barton.

The trucks are part of a little-known system of moving natural gas called “virtual pipelines.”