Nel's New Day

May 19, 2015

David v. Goliath; Or Shell No!

No U.S. laws will change because of the TPP. That’s President Obama’s claim through his push for the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The Senate, however, has two companion trade bills. One will allow any president to negotiate trade agreements within the next six years with no amendments of filibusters in Congress. The second bill is a trade adjustment assistance (TAA) bill that provides federal funds for workers displaced by free trade agreements. This help includes from job training, placement services, relocation expenses, income support, and health insurance subsidies.

TAA gets part of its funding from $700 million in Medicare cuts. Although sequestration (except for “defense”) expires in 2024, the TAA bill expands it while the other $2.2 billion comes from customs user fees. Compared to billions, $700 million isn’t much, but it’s another chip in social services, a reduction while the pet “defense” budget increases. The bill continues Congress’s philosophy that treats Medicare as its own piggy bank. Also the $700 million shows how little help the tens of thousands of people losing jobs will receive. The falsehood that TPP changes no U.S. laws just adds to the misrepresentations of a “trade agreement.”

The U.S. fight to prevent TPP is reminiscent of the biblical story of David and Goliath. Congressional legislators and the president forge ahead in the face of telephone calls to them showing an opposition of 25 to 1. You can add your voice here.

President Obama has created another David & Goliath story in the Northwest. A week ago, the Obama administration opened the door to drilling in the Arctic when it granted approval to Shell for exploration in this area “subject to rigorous safety standards,” according to the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. Shell plans to drill up to six wells about 70 miles offshore of the northwest coast of Alaska in the Chukchi Sea this summer between July 1 and the end of September. The plan is open to comment for another week.

If Shell were to develop the area, the leases would result in eight offshore platforms, 400 to 457 production wells, 80 to 92 service wells, 380 to 420 miles of offshore pipelines, 600 to 640 miles of onshore pipelines, a shorebase, a processing facility, and a waste facility. The agency approving Shell’s plan reported that there was a “75% chance of one or more large spills” occurring in the area over the next 77 years. During development, about 800 oil spills of less than 1,000 barrels apiece are “considered likely to occur,” some even at the exploration-only stage. It can be expected that at least two large spills greater than 1,000 barrels of oil will occur. Such occurrences would devastate both ecosystems and the people who rely on these for their living. 

This remote area is considered one of the most dangerous places in the world to drill for oil. Rescue and cleanup is almost nonexistent with the closest Coast Guard station for this purpose over 1,000 miles away. Three years ago, Shell left the Arctic after a number of disasters, including the Kulluk oil rig that had to be towed to safety in late 2012 and sold for junk after it ran aground because of the company’s “inadequate assessment and management of risks,” according to a report released by the U.S. Coast Guard. The catastrophe left 150,000 gallons of fuel and drilling fluid along a formerly pristine coastline. The next year, the Interior Department stated that Shell failed to meet safety mandates and ordered the corporation to stop drilling.

For years, Shell has been talking about the problems of climate change and how the increase in temperature—double former projections—will cause devastating rising of oceans. Shell remains a member of the far-right legislative-writing organization, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and then states that climate change regulations are the purview of policymakers. Then the company argues that the opposition of global warming cannot distract from the growing energy demand from the growing population and people living in poverty. As Shell’s CEO, Ben van Beurden, said, “The issue is how to balance one moral obligation, energy access for all, against the other: fighting climate change.”

Obviously, Shell finds its moral obligation in “energy access for all.” Restricting global temperatures makes U.S. Arctic oil extraction economically unviable. The more the ice melts, the greater chance Shell has of finding oil in the area. Despite van Beurden’s call for an informed debate surrounding climate change, Shell continues to partner with ALEC. As executive chair of Google, Eric Schmidt, said last year when the company pulled out of ALEC, “They are just literally lying [about climate change.]”

Despite Shell’s claims to have a “thoroughly responsible plan,” the company refuses to test essential oil spill equipment in Arctic conditions. After the company tested the containment dome in 2012 when it “crushed like a beer can” in safety testing, it has been tested only in waters off Washington State. Shell has also retained Noble Drilling after it had to pay $12 million after pleading guilty to eight crimination offenses working for Shell in 2012. These included the falsification of records, unauthorized alterations to essential equipment, and “willfully failing to notify the U.S. Coast Guard of hazardous conditions aboard the drill ship Noble Discoverer.”

Shell has even failed to obtain necessary permits from the City of Seattle, where it leased mooring near a dense residential area at a container terminal not intended as a home port. The city has claimed that Shell violates the terminal’s use and demanded an additional use permit from Seattle. A lawsuit claims that the port failed to comply with public processes, zoning regulations, and environmental regimes and calls for a new environmental review. Mike O’Brien, a city council member, talked about concerns that the drilling fleet could “discharge oil and other toxic pollutants” in the Puget Sound and damaging a fragile ecosystem that the area has worked for decades to clean up.

An alternative to Seattle for Shell’s moorage is Dutch Harbor (AK), but comes at a higher cost with rougher weather. Shell also wants to avoid Alaska’s fossil fuel tax. The Noble was trying to escape that fuel tax when it managed to ground the drilling rig on the coastline because of bad weather. The owners of both vessels that Shell wants to leave in Seattle when they aren’t operating in the Arctic have both been cited for safety dangers and pollution discharge. The Noble Discover’s pollution-control system, which broke in 2012, also failed last month in near Hawaii. The owner of the other, Transocean, paid $1.4 billion in civil and criminal penalties after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster killing 11 workers and blowing five million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

The first permit that Shell received is conditional, based on the requirement that the company obtain another seven state and federal permits including incidental harassment authorizations from the National Marine Fisheries Service, letters of authorization from the Fish and Wildlife Service, and wastewater discharge approvals from the Environmental Protection Agency. Growing noise levels and vessel traffic from Shell’s endeavors threaten the whales in the Arctic: gray whales are there year-round, bowhead whales migrate through the area, and Beluga whales raise their young there. Other species in the area are Pacific walruses, polar bears, seals, and various seabird populations.

Activists participate in the sHell No Flotilla part of the Paddle In Seattle protest.  Nearly a thousand people from country gathered May 16, 2015 in Seattle's Elliot Bay for a family-friendly festival and on-land rally to protest against Shell’s Arctic drilling plans.  Photo by Greenpeace

Activists participate in the sHell No Flotilla part of the Paddle In Seattle protest. Nearly a thousand people from country gathered May 16, 2015 in Seattle’s Elliot Bay for a family-friendly festival and on-land rally to protest against Shell’s Arctic drilling plans. Photo by Greenpeace

Seattle residents aren’t accepting the drilling rigs. Hundreds of activists are blocking road traffic—including port workers—to the port. Another 500 “kayaktivists” surrounded the Polar Pioneer drilling rig that arrived last Thursday despite the dangers. Kayakers too close to the propwash, the propeller stream, can get sucked into the frigid water, and kayakers in the way of the ship’s momentum can drown. Their plan is to make sure that the semi-submersible drilling unit with a 170-foot-tall derrick doesn’t leave to destroy the Arctic. Shell’s other drilling rig is already avoiding the inhospitality by mooring farther north at Everett (WA).

ARCTIC_DRILLING_43917475As the kayakers’ sign read, “The people vs. Shell.” I’m rooting for the people. Maybe David will win again.

February 3, 2015

Keystone Pipeline, Environmental Disaster Instead of Jobs

Before all the hoopla about vaccinations and the president’s budget, the Senate passed the Keystone XL pipeline by 62 to 36 with the support of nine Democrats. It’s not a done deal yet because there has to be a coordination with the House bill, but it’s sure to head for the president’s desk, hopefully for his veto pen. An accurate tweet from Charles Gaba stated that more senators voted to build the pipeline from Canada to Texas than jobs that the completed project would provide. (That’s 35 jobs, if you’ve forgotten.) With the real economic benefits in our neighbor to the north, Josh Green joked that it’s “kind of nuts” that GOP congressional legislators are “fighting for the Canadian economy.

Once again, the objections to the pipeline to transport tar sands oil across the U.S. to be shipped overseas:

  • It is environmentally hazardous. (More about that later.)
  • It has no impact on already low gas prices. (Actually it might raise them.)
  • It won’t help the U.S. unemployment rate.

As Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) said, “This is the only time in the history of the Senate that we have given such a big hug and kiss to a company, any private company, American or foreign.”

Why do Republicans want just that one oil project so much? To them, it’s a symbol. To them it has become The Most Important Project in the World. The GOP has no jobs agenda and no economic vision. Voting on the Keystone pipeline keeps conservatives from noticing that pesky little fact. They spent millions and millions of dollars spent on getting control of the Senate, and all they got so far is the Keystone bill that the president has promised to veto.

Yesterday was the deadline for eight federal agencies to provide feedback to the Department of State about the project. Those officials will take all that stuff to Secretary of State John Kerry who will think about the project and make a recommendation to President Obama who will then think about it for a while before a final decision. The EPA weighed in by writing that there is “no way” that building the Keystone XL pipeline would not have a significant effect on climate.

The nine Democrats who voted for the Keystone pipeline are Sens. Michael Bennet (CO), Tom Carper (DE), Bob Casey (PA), Joe Donnelly (IN), Heidi Heitkamp (ND), Joe Manchin (WV), Claire McCaskill (MO), Jon Tester (MT), and Mark Warner (VA). These are the people terrified of being called tree huggers.

The Keystone bill had 43 amendments in the Senate. Six passed, and the others, including one that would require the steel used in the pipeline be made in the United States, failed. That amendment was also a jobs amendment, but the GOP voted it down. The amendment to keep the oil from the pipeline in the United States also failed. As Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said, “Time and time again Republicans pledge their allegiance to foreign special interests above the American middle class.”

Republicans are also comfortable with a foreign company seizing land in the United States.   In order for the pipeline to cross Nebraska, TransCanada has filed papers to seize property from the 12 percent of holdouts by eminent domain.  Meanwhile Ernie Chambers, a state legislator, has introduced a bill to repeal the pipeline-siting law that would stop the project.

Republicans preened themselves for outdoing the Democrats after an amendment about climate change passed the Senate by 98-1: the 98 agreed that climate exchange exists. Mississippi’s Roger Wicker was the one holdout. Five Senate Republicans were brave enough to vote that humans affect climate change, probably because many of them are from “blue” states. Only two GOP senators, however, were willing to go on the record that humans “significantly” contribute to climate change—Mark Kirk (IL) and Kelly Ayotte (NH). The irony of Republicans voting against any human affect on climate change is that these are the same people who complain about China’s not reducing carbon emissions enough to make any difference in the climate.

What can go wrong with the Keystone pipeline that crosses a huge amount of water necessary for crops, livestock, and people in the United State? Events just this past January show the danger.

For the second time in less than four years, a spill in Montana sent up to 50,000 gallons of Bakken shale crude oil into the Yellowstone River. After the January 17 event, people in Glendive were told not to use any municipal water because it contains high levels of cancer-causing benzene. At least that’s what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told the residents; state officials initially told people that there was no problem with the water. Oil was spotted as far away as Sidney, 60 miles distant. ExxonMobil still hasn’t paid the damages for the 63,000 gallons spilled into the same river in July 2011. The Keystone XL pipeline is scheduled to pass through or near the property belonging to some people impacted by the current spill. A member of the Northern Plains Resource Council said, “The whole question is, should we continue to be having pipelines under aquifers and under surface water? It is not a good idea and not safe. There is no fail-safe pipeline.”

The Yellowstone River empties into the Missouri River. The Keystone XL pipeline would be three times the 12-foot diameter of the breached Bridger pipeline and pump more than 34 million gallons of oil per day through the Dakotas down into Nebraska and into the southern leg in Oklahoma and Texas.

Five days later, it was discovered that 3 million gallons of saltwater drilling waste had spilled from a North Dakota pipeline. Officials won’t know what affects the briny spill will have on water sources, land, and wildlife until all the ice melts. Chloride concentrations in one affected creek are much higher than usual, even as it fills with fresh water. The escaped brine that contains heavy metals and radioactive material is possibly 17 times saltier than seawater. Last July’s much smaller spill contaminated soil and killed vegetation. Because the only way to clean up brine spills is flushing them with freshwater, that source becomes depleted. The million-gallon brine spill in 2006 killed fish and forced ranchers to move. The spill has still not been cleaned up. The year 2013 saw over 800 saltwater spills in North Dakota.

west virginia pipeline explodesTen days after the Yellowstone spill, a pipeline in West Virginia near the Ohio River exploded. Two years ago, a report on another West Virginia gas line explosion in the Christian Science Monitor was subtitled “Just a Drop in the Disaster Bucket.” That explosion burned for more than an hour and melted four lanes of I-77. About 80 incidents in 2012 involving natural gas transmission lines may have been worse because of few inspectors. Explosions in gas distribution lines caused nine fatalities and 21 injuries. The 321,000 miles of gas transmission pipelines have funding for just over 100 inspectors who also are responsible for another two million miles of gas distribution pipelines.

That’s the fourth major pipeline incident in just the first month of 2015. The first one was a gas explosion in Mississippi.

Spills from the Keystone pipeline would be much harder to clean up than from the traditional oil or gas pipeline. The thicker, sludgier tar sands oil doesn’t float on top of the water like conventional crude; instead it sinks to the bottom, including the Ogallala aquifer if it spilled into Nebraska’s major source of water. The media largely avoided reporting on any of these disasters while the Keystone XL pipeline was being considered.

These are some of the jobs that the Keystone XL pipeline might provide:  wildlife washers, oil spill cleanup crew members, lawyers, plumbers, fisherpeople for huge mutant fish, water truck delivery drivers to replace tap water, whistleblowers, and genetic engineers to help people survive cancers.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski likes the Keystone vote because it’s good for the spirit of cooperation. It’s just not good for the people in the United States. The House will vote on the Senate bill this next week.

April 21, 2014

Oil Spills on Earth Day, Bad and Good

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 6:29 PM
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On Earth Day 2010, people were in shock over the explosion at the BP Deepwater Horizon oil platform just two days earlier that released over 200 million gallons of oil in the gulf. In an attempt to solve its problem, BP released almost 2 million gallons of toxic dispersants. Four years later, on the 45th anniversary of Earth Day, people are seeing the bad news and the good news that followed the disaster.

The bad news about the disaster is that BP thinks the oil spill recovery is finished despite the tarballs and the ring of oil along the Gulf Coast. Big storms leave huge mats of fresh oil on the beach sand. Between 28 and 43 percent of the carbon in tiny floating particles throughout the Gulf can be traced to methane released during the BP spill. After bacteria in the Gulf digested the methane, oil spill pollution is now a ubiquitous element of the Gulf’s ecological food chain.

Serious effects on people and wildlife may continue for decades. Fresh oil keeps appearing in Prince William Sound 25 years after the Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska. More information about the aftermath of the BP disaster is available here.

BP is not the sole perpetrator of oil destruction in that area. Louisiana is one of the most heavily polluted states in the country with 20 percent of the oil leaks taking place within its boundaries. Although 64,000 oil and gas wells are still active in the state, the remainder of the 220,000 have been removed, capped, or abandoned. The pipelines that crisscross among wells, offshore platforms, and onshore refineries provide more opportunity for oil and gas leaks. Fractracker.org shows daily incidents on an interactive map showing 1,887 of these between January 1, 2010 and March 29, 2013.

The Clean Water Act requires polluters to file reports of a release of hazardous materials and other pollutants into a body of water. Although over 1,200 reports from 2004 to 2011 were related to the Taylor Energy site, SkyTruth found these to be the tip of the disaster. Further research showed that Gulf oil spills and other pollution events were far more routine than industries indicated.

No government office regularly monitors the Gulf and coastal areas for oil spills. It uses an honor system, relying on gas and oil industries to be self-reporting. The Louisiana Department of Natural Resources has an average of 12 inspectors assigned to check wells, meaning that each well might be inspected only every three years. Between October 2010 and September 2011, 2,903 oil releases were reported in the Gulf region, but 77 percent of these failed to include an estimate of how much oil was spilled. Oil spills from the other 23 percent totaled 250,000 gallons of crude. SkyTruth estimates that the total amount was between 1.5 million and 2.2 million gallons.

The good news part of the oil spill is that residents and activists along the Gulf have developed networks to deal with future problems. Originally those who now take part in organizations such as the Gulf Future Coalition and the Gulf Coast Fund for Community Renewal and Ecological Health had been excluded from recovery procedures. Documents such as the Unified Action Plan for a Health Gulf and media projects such as Bridge the Gulf    have given voices to community members outside political filters.

Three victories:

The Gulf Coast will keep the money. Under the Oil Spill Liability Act, fines, which can be up to $20 billion in just this one case, go to the U.S. Treasury. Gulf Coast communities wrote the RESTORE Act to keep the BP fine money in the Gulf, and Congress passed it.

Gulf Coast residents get some health care although the state keeps them from full benefits of the Affordable Care Act.  Unexplained illness with problems of respiration, rashes, and nausea became prevalent after the oil spill, but BP refused to permit any health-related grievances because of the oil spill. In the settlement of a civil case with commercial fishers and oil workers, however, $105 million of the $7.8 billion went to building health centers in every Gulf state. Beyond giving health care, these centers provide epidemiological training for doctors to better monitor for spill-related illnesses.  The new health centers are also in some of the states that turned down federal funding to expand Medicaid.

Gulf residents are now spreading their stories, primarily through documentaries, to an audience that won’t hear about them in the mainstream media. Future historians will have a view of what restoration looked like, who benefited, and who was excluded.

The first independent group to challenge BP’s spill rate estimates was  SkyTruth, a small nonprofit that uses remote sensing and digital mapping to track pollution. In using satellite imagery, SkyTruth determined that oil was gushing from the Macondo at five to 24 times more than BP stated. Monitoring BP’s spill led SkyTruth to discover more leaks, starting with an ongoing one off the Mississippi River delta where a Taylor Energy oil platform had been damaged in 2004 by Hurricane Ivan.

Another positive movement since the BP disaster is the formation of the Gulf Restoration Network. Founded by Jonathan Henderson, the organization uses volunteers and other assistance the North Carolina-based nonprofit SouthWings  to fly over areas of environmental concern. In his attempt to fly over the BP spill, the company tries to deny them permission, but persistence paid off. Henderson took up to 30 flights and many boat trips at that time, tracking the oil as it spread to marshes and bays. His observations led to more accurate information as BP and government officials released lowball figures to the media.

Samantha Joye, a marine scientist and professor at the University of Georgia, is to leading a research expedition to examine the seafloor near the BP 2010 explosion to determine why the chemicals there are not being degraded. The 24 scientists left on the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s research vessel Atlantis March 30 and plan to return Thursday. They will use the human-operated deep submergence vessel Alvin for their deep-sea dives instead of automated or remotely operated vehicles. The research is sponsored by the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative and the National Science Foundation. Antonia Juhasz, a leading voice on oil and energy and investigative journalist, joined the expedition and will write three articles about it.

Tomorrow Nels New Day will showcase the traditional Earth Day photographs by photographer extraordinaire Ann Hubard as well as two from my partner that show our amazing Oregon Coast beach. As you see them, think about ways that we can keep our country and our planet from the serious pollution that is taking over the world because of our careless treatment of the Earth.

March 26, 2014

Oil Spends Money on Drilling, Not Cleanup

On the 25th anniversary of the  Exxon Valdez oil spill last Sunday, the Houston Ship Channel was closed after a barge spilled almost 170,000 gallons of tar-like crude after a collision with a ship. At this time of the year, tens of thousands of shorebirds are migrating, right into the oil that’s gone as far as 12 miles offshore. Dead and oiled birds are already showing up. History repeating itself.

Twenty-five years after the oil spill at Alaska’s Bligh Reef, the oil remains in the inner tidal zone.  The spill of 11 million gallons covered 1,300 miles of coastline and 11,000 square miles of ocean. Those who lost their livelihood because of the dead fish recently settled for pennies on the dollar. Twenty years ago, they were awarded $2.5 billion; the Supreme Court decided that it should be $500 million for 32,000 people. Herring licenses worth $300,000 dropped to $15,000 after the disaster—about $625 for each year that they waited.

This coming month sees the fourth anniversary of the BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig explosion that killed 11 people and dumped 210 million gallons of oil into the fragile Gulf of Mexico—almost ten times the amount of thick crude oil that polluted Prince William Sound from the Exxon Valdez. Four years later, BP oil is still being tossed in the air from waves because of the BP’s use of dispersants on the Gulf surface and a mile deep. BP claimed that it wasn’t a problem, but Science magazine published a 2011 study showing that much of the material formed plumes toward the Louisiana coastline. Tar balls are also still washing up on the beaches.

BP has paid a little over one-third of its $9.2-billion estimate to businesses affected by fouled beaches. The company tried a stall in court, claiming that payments were going to people who had no losses. In early March, however, a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit appeals court ruled against BP, declaring that the class action settlement for businesses suffering losses is legal—at least for the time being. The British company goes to court again on January 20, 2015 regarding federal Clean Water Act penalties.

While BP stalls, CEO Robert Dudley’s salary has tripled since 2012 when he agreed to a massive settlement. Dudley may have deserved his $13.2 million because BP made a $13.4-billion profit last year. And the United States government has let BP off the hook by reinstating the company’s right to federal contracts and drilling.

Tyson Slocum, director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program, wrote:

“Today’s announcement lets a corporate felon and repeat offender off the hook for its crimes against people and the environment. This is a company that was on criminal probation at the time of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, and it has failed to prove that it is a responsible contractor deserving of lucrative taxpayer deals.”

BP pled guilty to 11 charges of manslaughter and lying to Congress about the disaster.  It “ruined coastal areas in five states,” according to Monique Harden of the New Orleans-based Advocates for Environmental Human Rights. “It is all about political deal-making.” The BP’s ban on U.S. contracts and new leases was done in 2012 because the company had not fully addressed the issues. After BP sued the EPA, the agency settled by allowing the contracts and releases. The deal was made just in time for the Interior Department lease sale of 40 million acres in the Gulf waters.

Not happy with polluting the Gulf of Mexico, BP has moved on to Lake Michigan. Less than a year after it “upgraded” its Whiting refinery in northwestern Indiana for heavy Canadian tar-sands oil, the refinery spewed oil into the lake. BP had already piled up petroleum coke in nearby Chicago. Lake Michigan is the source of drinking water for 7 million people. Both Illinois U.S. Senators—both Republican—took notice of the problem. Mark Kirk and Dick Durbin released a joint statement:

“[T]hree weeks ago, BP announced a plan to nearly double its processing of heavy crude oil at its BP Whiting Refinery. Given today’s events and BP’s decision to increase production, we are extremely concerned about the possibility of a future spill that may not be so easily contained. We plan to hold BP accountable for this spill and will ask for a thorough report about the cause of this spill, the impact of the Whiting Refinery’s production increase on Lake Michigan, and what steps are being taken to prevent any future spill.”

Good luck with that!

North Dakota is cleaning up a 34,000-gallon oil spill 75 miles away from another accident in a wheat field last year. In Ohio, 20,000 gallons of crude recently leaked out of a pipeline onto a nature preserve. Denver-based Zavanna LLC has been fined after one of its wells spilled up to 1,400 gallons of oil near the confluence of Yellowstone and Missouri rivers during recent North Dakota flooding.

A bonus to the industry, the new head of the Senate Energy and Commerce Committee is oil-friendly Mary Landrieu (D-LA). She took the job after Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) moved to chair the Finance Committee with the departure of Max Baucus. GOP may complain about the environmental bent of the Democratic party, but they’re not talking about Landrieu. These are some of her votes:

  • In favor of an amendment sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to reverse the EPA’s decision to label CO2 a pollutant under the Clean Air Act.
  • Against the Close Big Oil Tax Loopholes Act, introduced by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ).
  • For an amendment to the 2012 transportation bill that would have opened up vast areas of coastline to offshore drilling, potentially damaging coastal industries and interfering with military activity.

Landrieu was missing when 31 Democratic senators had an all-night talk-a-thon about climate change this month. Her allegiance to the oil and gas industry has paid off: they’ve paid her $564,350 for this year’s campaign.

If her opponent, Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), gets Landrieu’s job, the Dems will have lost one of the 53 Democratic senators. If the Senate gains a GOP majority, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) will become Energy chair. Landrieu’s lifetime rating from the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) is 49 percent, but Cassidy is at 11 percent and Murkowski at 21 percent. Even Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has a 69 percent score.

Dune Lankard is an Alaskan native, an Eyak of the Eagle clan, who has lived his entire life in Cordova, one of the hardest-hit towns by the Valdez disaster. Talking about the future of his home, he described the use of dispersants, like those used in the BP disaster.

“They spewed two million gallons of Corexit, which is more damaging to the environment than the oil spill itself because it’s like dumping carburetor fluid in the water. And so dispersants, bioremediation, using hot water washes that kills all the enzymes and all the organisms in the tidal zone, they found that that wasn’t the best thing that we could’ve done. So the best thing we can do is prevent oil spills from happening in the first place.”

As Lankard knows, however, the oil industry has put all its money into new drilling techniques and no money into handling oil spills.

Alaska’s other problem is the 35-year-old Trans-Alaska Pipeline, built to last 30 years. Lankyard’s suggestion is to clean it out and run water to the United States because of the growing shortage in the Lower 48.  If the GOP takes over the Senate, Lisa Murkowski takes over the Energy Committee. She’s from Alaska, and she loves the oil industry.

alaska_featured A bit of humor for the day: In less than a week over 25,000 Alaskans have signed an official White House petition to secede to Russia. A little less than 150 years ago, the United States bought Alaska because Russia lost so much money in the Crimean War. What might the United States buy from Russia now if Putin’s actions tank his country’s economy? It’s a thought.

October 12, 2013

Day Twelve of the GOP Government Shutdown: Other News Out There

Am I the only person irate that Congressional GOP members are willing to dismantle the United States of America in order to keep giant companies from paying 2.3 percent on medical devices? Even Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), perhaps the most reasonable senator, is including this proviso in her proposal for passing a Continuing Resolution, the same CR that House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) promised last July would have no attachments.

That 2.3 percent tax would be on the $13,000 charge that companies make for a device that costs $350 to produce. Michael Shopenn found out about this cost when he needed a hip replacement. To have this procedure in the United States, he would have to pay an additional $65,000 for the procedure—not including the surgeon’s fee—over the $13,000 artificial hip cost. Other patients are charged two to three times that amount for the artificial hip.

His cost for having a hip replacement was $13,660 in a hospital outside Brussels, Belgium. The charge covered not only the hip joint, made by Warsaw (IN)-based Zimmer Holdings, but also all doctors’ fees, operating-room charges, crutches, medicine, a hospital room for five days, a week in rehab, and a round-trip ticket from the United States. The GOP is willing to destroy the U.S. for a 2.3 percent charge on outrageously marked-up medical devices. Belgium also has the lowest surgical infection rates in the world and is known for its excellent doctors.

The medical-device industry spent nearly $30 million last year on lobbying.

While government shutdown talks stall, time has stopped on Capitol Hill. The people hired to wind the clocks have been furloughed. The almost 200-year-old Ohio Clock, famous for a place where senators hide whiskey, stopped at 12:14 last Wednesday. The stoppage is symbolic of the stoppagefor millions of people in the nation who are furloughed, sickened, injured, hungry, and growing poorer each day.

During the shutdown, the media has suspended reporting much of the news around the country. Here are a few events:

Two days before the shutdown on October 1, over 20,600 barrels of oil, 865,200 gallons, fracked from the Bakken Shale, spilled onto a wheat field from a Tesoro Logistics pipeline in Tioga (ND) in one of the biggest onshore oil spills in recent U.S. history. The U.S. National Response Center, responsible for responding to chemical and oil spills, didn’t make the report available for ten days because of the government shutdown. These reports are usually posted within 24 hours. The spill is far larger than the 5,000-7,000 barrels of tar sands spilled into a residential neighborhood last April in Mayflower (AR) from a faulty ExxonMobil pipeline.

With only 1,285 barrels cleaned, the oil spread out over 7.3 acres. The oil, spilled through a hole in the side of the pipe and ruining the fields for planting, was destined for an Albany (NY) holding facility along the Hudson River.

Food-borne pathogens are sickening and killing Americans in more than 18 states as employees for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are being recalled as “essential” employees. The dual outbreaks of a salmonella outbreak and a hepatitis outbreak in Hawaii are linked to contaminated Foster Farms chicken products and the Dallas-based USPLabs LLC dietary supplement, OxyElite Pro. As of yesterday, more than 300 people have gotten sick, including 87 hospitalized, and one is dead with reports of antibiotic resistance for the precipitating strain of salmonella Heidelberg.

With more than 45 percent of all FDA employees furloughed, daily operations such as crucial inspections of food imports are on hiatus until the government reopens. The skeleton crew of ten in the CDC has been trying to maintain updates for tracking food-borne pathogens and outbreaks.

Even without the government shutdown, the FDA, USDA, and CDC—responsible for keeping food safe through inspection and prevention programs—are so seriously understaffed that people in the U.S. annually report 3,000 deaths, 128,000 hospitalizations, and over 48 million annual instances of food-borne illness. Only 6 percent of domestic food producers and 0.4 percent of food importers were inspected in 2011 after George W. Bush gutted the FDA budget.

Foster Farms has done no recall. A law passed in 2011 will give the FDA authority to legally mandate a recall of contaminated food, but it has not been completely enacted yet. Although the law should take effect by mid-2015, amendments from the GOP in Congress may weaken the act. Currently, the government also permits a privatized inspection scheme in which meat producers self-inspect.

If you avoid food-borne illness, you might want to watch out for nuclear disasters. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission had to furlough approximately 90 percent of its workforce. Supposedly, the agency will continue to respond to emergency safety and security matters, and onsite inspectors will stay on duty. Although the media has reported extensively on the Japanese problems with nuclear explosions, it has largely ignored the problems at nuclear sites in the U.S., such as the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, located in southeastern Washington along the Columbia River. Last spring, a nuclear safety board reported that the underground tanks holding toxic, radioactive waste could explode at any minute, due to a dangerous buildup of hydrogen gas.

Six months earlier, the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DFNSB) told the Department of Energy about their concerns of no adequate safeguards to protect against the buildup of flammable gasses inside Hanford’s waste storage tanks. An explosion would “have considerable radiological consequences,” they wrote. Six of Hanford’s 177 tanks, holding 56,000 gallons of radioactive water, leak about 1,000 gallons of nuclear waste each year. Construction of a waste-treatment plant would make the toxic chemicals safe for long-term disposal and keep the radioactive waste from leaking into the ground, but Bechtel, responsible for building the plant, has been purchasing parts with no quality guarantee.

Other nuclear sites needing to be cleaned are in California, Colorado,Tennessee, South Carolina, Idaho, and Texas. Thirty-four nuclear reactors—one-third of those in the U.S.—face flooding hazards. This week, a former chair of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission called for shutting down the Indian Point nuclear power plant near New York City and the Pilgrim nuclear power plant in Plymouth (MA) citing safety concerns. Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station in Vernon (VT) and Kewaunee Power Station near Green Bay (WI) have already closed. Mechanical failures and safety concerns have hurried the demise of San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station on the California coast and Crystal River Nuclear Plant in Citrus County (FL). Sequester cuts have already reduced the cleanups at these nuclear facilities.

Although the potential default could be catastrophic with spiking borrowing costs and interest rates accompanied by plummeting stocks, some people can benefit.

  • Short sellers: Betting that the value of a stock or bond will drop instead of going up is an investment strategy employed by financial firms and the wealthy. A stock market crash will short almost every U.S. stock.
  • Investors in gold and silver: Gold and silver typically rise in value when the stock market is volatile, because they hold their value better than paper money or other assets. The price of both metals rose this week as default fears heightened.
  • Bitcoin investors (maybe): The value of this untraceable virtual currency has tracked closely with gold over the past year.
  • Currency traders: Traders who bet that the US dollar will decrease in value relative to foreign currencies stand to profit off of a US government default.
  • Pawn shops: If credit markets freeze, as they did during the 2008 meltdown, pawn shops will do well as they did after the last crisis.
  • Bankruptcy lawyers: Loss of jobs and other income bring people to the edge.
  • Mortgage servicers: Spiking interest rates can cause somehomeowners to default on loans and end up in foreclosure. Investors take the losses while servicers make back the money they are owed in a foreclosure sale as well as getting the fees that borrowers pay on delinquent loans.
  • The canned and freeze-dried food industries: Doomsday preppers are readying for the collapse of civilization by stocking up on these foods.

Thus people betting against the United States will make money, and  members of Congress keep getting paid and going to their gym.

April 23, 2013

All the United States Could Look Like This

ED athabasca River 2 This is the  Suncor Energy upgrading refinery on the banks of the Athabasca River.  [Copyrighted photo; photographer not identified.]

You can see more photos of the tar sands oil destruction in Canada at this website.

ED tar sands

Located in northern Alberta, Canada, within boreal forest and peat bogs, the Athabasca Oil Sands covers 54,000 square miles, an area larger than England. It is the world’s largest biome, stretching across Alaska, Canada, Sweden, Finland, inland Norway, Siberia, Northern Minnesota, Upstate New York, New Hampshire, Maine, northern Kazakhstan and Japan. The conifers such as fir, spruce, and pine are vital to our ecology because they provide carbon, regulate climate, and prevent mud slides and flooding. The history of these trees goes back over 300 million years, twice as long as flowering plants. These two photos demonstrate a before-and-after view.

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Imagine going to work and coming home to find this in your yard. That’s what happened in 22 households in Mayflower (AK) in mid March when the Pegasus pipeline broke. None of the people had any idea that there was even a pipeline in the vicinity.

ED Sludge in the Driveway at Mayflower

They found this when they drove into their subdivision.

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ed best paper towels

Exxon used paper towels to clean up the horrible mess–the same process BP used on the Gulf Coast after the its oil spill disaster.

ed gulf cleanup

Three years after BP’s Deepwater Horizon spill, people are still finding hundreds of beached dolphin carcasses, shrimp with no eyes, contaminated fish, and ancient corals caked in oil. More photos.

ed even  messier in wilderness

Outside Mayflower near the highway.

ED Nancy ZornOne of the best photos of the Keystone pipeline is of Nancy Zorn, a 79-year-old Oklahoma grandmother, who locked her neck to a piece of heavy machinery to protest the Keystone XL Pipeline. She said: “There is the Cree Indian prophecy, which inspired Greenpeace. ‘There will come a time when the Earth grows sick and when it does, a tribe will gather from all the cultures of the world who believe in deeds and not words.’”

Update: Yesterday, the EPA provided its report on the  State Department’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS); it rated the statement as having “Insufficient Information.” That means that the agency doesn’t know enough to assess the pipeline’s environmental impact. The EPA gave these reasons:

Increased carbon pollution: The EPA noted that the statistics for this are alarming and questioned the State Department’s assertion that the increase is inevitable even without the tar sands project.

Not inevitable: The State Department claimed that the oil would come out of the ground no matter what. EPA disagreed, stating that the report is incomplete, using outdated modeling. It also fails to consider the expense and infeasibility of rail shipping as an alternative to the pipeline.

Need for renewable energy to power pumping stations on pipeline: If this is not used, the pipeline itself will actively emit GhG emissions.

Difficulty in cleanup: Because diluted bitumen is extremely dense and sinks to the bottoms of lakes and rivers, tar sands oil is particularly dirty to clean up. The EPA notes that diluted bitumen is very dense and sinks to the bottom of rivers and lakes. Normal cleanup methods don’t work, and the highly toxic dilbit “could cause long-term chronic toxicological impacts” to wildlife. EPA wants a revised, rethought response plan before any permit is issued for a pipeline.

Affect on drinking water: The pipeline was moved away from the Nebraska Sand Hills, but it is still scheduled to cross the Ogallala Aquifer. The State Department’s report did not address any alternative paths to avoid the water pollution.

The difference between the assessments by the State Department and by the EPA are the same as the difference between a report prepared by a firm paid by the pipeline’s owner and by officials with environmental concerns.

April 22, 2013

Conservatives Aim to Destroy the Environment

For the past two Earth Days I have posted Ann Hubard’s rich photographs showing how special the planet can be. This year, she is on vacation in parts of the Southwest that has kept its beauty. Therefore today, I will write about one of the greatest potential disasters in the United States, and tomorrow I will post photographs of how conservatives want our country to look. When Ann returns, I’m sure that she will provide more gorgeous photographs to give us hope.

Today is the 43rd annual celebration of Earth Day. It was also supposed to be  the last day that the government took public comment on the proposed Keystone Pipeline that would move tar sands oil from Canada through Texas to the Gulf of Mexico. The State Department plans to post all 800,000+ comments and and has decided to permit further public comment during the National Interest Determination period. During the one public hearing on the pipeline project, hundreds of opponents attended the central Nebraska meeting and begged for the pipeline’s rejection.

The Keystone Pipeline is a very bad idea.

  • Oil companies are gutting Canada’s boreal forest, one of the last wild places on the planet; they have already created a waste zone the size of Chicago.
  • Oil companies have to mine at least two tons of sand to get just one single barrel of tar sands crude called bitumen that requires extensive refining to be converted into fuel.
  • Producing tar sands crude generates up to 4.5 times more climate-changing carbon emissions as the production of conventional crude oil, as much as putting 4.3 million more cars on the road.
  • The pipeline would carry and emit 181 million metric tons of CO2 every year, equivalent to 37.7 million cars or 51 coal plants.
  • The pipeline would cut through states with more than 250,000 ranches and farms and cross nearly 1,500 American waterways from the Yellowstone River in Montana to Pine Island Bayou in Texas.
  • Oil companies have had 5,611 pipeline failures that have killed 367 people, injured nearly 1,500 more, and spilled more than 100 million gallons of oil into our waters and over our lands.
  • Oil companies would create only 3,900 short-term jobs during construction, and only 10 percent of those would employ people living in the area of the pipeline. Following construction, the pipeline would require 35 jobs.
  • Most of the oil doesn’t stay in the United States. it will be exported.
  • The ten spills (or more!) during just the last month have been largely not covered by the media.

Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) thinks that “Exxon should be patted on the back for the way they handled [the spill.]” The back pat would be for refusal to pay for the cleanup, the pittance ($10,000 house cleaning) allocation per household affected for weeks with their land permanently destroyed, and the inability to use anything except paper towels to wipe up the oil. He continued with the usual ignorant statement connecting the Boston bombing to the pipeline:

“I mean, would we rather buy oil from the Middle East that sponsors the acts that we see like at the Marathon that we just saw yesterday? I don’t know if that was actually sponsored by them or not but that’s the acts that they support.”

A Department of Energy analysis noted that Keystone XL will have virtually no impact on Middle East imports to the United States. And oil companies are the top donors to Mullin’s campaign.

Another buy-in to the oil industry is the company that Arkansas’ Attorney General Dustin McDaniel hired for the “independent analysis of the cleanup” of the Mayflower oil spill. Witt O’Brien has participated in most recent high-profile oil spills, all of them botched up—Exxon Valdez, the BP Deepwater Horizon spill, the Enbridge tar sands pipeline spill into the Kalamazoo River, and Hurricane Sandy.

After 1 million gallons of tar sands dilbit spilled into the Kalamazoo River, Witt O’Brien covered up the disaster by thinning out the oily debris and mixing mud into it. Witt Obrien ordered its employees: “Rake it into the soil. Cover it with grass. Cover it with leaves. I want you to hide it–to dupe the EPA and the [Michigan Department of Natural Resources].”

Witt O’Brien also worked with the BP Deepwater Horizon dispersant cover-up. They applied 1.1 million gallons of surface dispersant in the Gulf and another 720,000 gallons of subsea dispersant, claiming that it would change the oil into something edible for Gulf creatures. It doesn’t, but Witt O’Brien did the PR spin for damage control.

Five years ago, Witt O’Brien also got a $300,000+ contract “to develop a Canadian-US compliant Oil Spill Emergency Response Plan for TransCanada’s Keystone Oil Pipeline Project.” Many of Witt O’Brien’s employees have worked for Shell Oil, Exxon, etc. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush is also part of Witt O’Brien.

One of Witt O’Brien’s former clients is IFC International, a consulting firm hired by the U.S. State Department to do the Keystone XL Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement. Energy Secretary nominee Ernest Moniz was paid over $300,000 and given 10,000+ shares for two years on IFC’s board of directors.

An open supporter of nuclear power and fracking for shale gas, Moniz worked as a long-time corporate consultant for BP. He also accepted millions of dollars to sponsor studies at MIT. Under the auspices of the MIT Energy Initiative, the report, “The Future of Natural Gas,” was funded by the front group for Chesapeake Energy, the shale gas industry’s number two domestic producer. Of course, the report was extremely positive about gas as a “bridge fuel.”

Steven Colbert best summed up Exxon’s mishandling of the Mayflower debacle:

“Why haven’t we heard anything about the cleanup of that rupture in the Pegasus pipeline that spilled 150,000 gallons of tar sand oil? Well, that’s because Exxon has contained the cleanup [pause] coverage by threatening to have reporters arrested for trespassing.”

Showing workers power-washing oil into storm drains, Colbert said, “Of course the oil is going into the storm drains. They’re just putting back in the ground where it came from. It’s called recycling, duh.”

About the common 21st-century practice of cleaning up oil spills with quilted paper towels, he said:

“See, Exxon is employing a time-honored cleanup technique pioneered by drunk guys. You just throw some paper towels down on whatever you spilled and just get out of there. Of course, there are other drunk guy options like hiding the spill with a strategically-placed coffee table, or better yet, just flip Arkansas over like a couch cushion.”

Like most of Colbert’s and Jon Stewart’s shows, there’s as much fact as comedy in their reporting.

Evidencing the growing polarity in the United States is the contrast between the first Earth Day in 1970 under President Nixon and the current attitudes in the country. Although fewer people place importance on environmental issues than 42 years ago, more people are trying to protect the environment through limiting electricity use, eating organic food, and recycling. In 1971  88 percent of the poll’s respondents said it was important to restore and enhance the national environment compared to 80 percent now. The “very important” category dropped from 63 percent to 39 percent.

The New York Time is a reflection of this growing indifference to the destruction of the environment: last year they cut their Green blog and the reporters to cover this subject. Fortunately, smaller organizations are continuing to pursue news about  the subject. Inside Climate News is one of the best, and three of their reporters—Elizabeth McGowan, Lisa Song, and David Hasemyer—were recognized with a Pulitzer this year for their national news reporting. Their coverage of the recent Exxon spill in Mayflower was superb, especially considering the way that the oil company tried to keep anyone outside the corporation away from the site.

Exxon has also kept the pressure on the media by preventing the Little Rock television stations from running advertising critical about their actions.

Conservatives want the teenager who allegedly set a bomb in Boston last week to be treated as an “enemy combatant.” Conservatives want everyone to have easy access to as many guns and as much ammunition as they wish. Conservatives also wish to kill the country and its people by shipping Canada’s tar sands product across the entire nation so that oil companies can send it out of the country.

April 3, 2013

Keystone Pipeline, Destructive

The decision on building the Keystone Pipeline project, designed to send oil from north of Montana through 1,700 miles and six states, is coming to a head. Since its inception, conservatives have advocated for this disaster—unless it crossed their own land—and environmentalists have fought it.

The issue exploded when the Exxon Pegasus pipeline ruptured last Friday in Mayflower (AR), flooding a residential neighborhood with tens of thousands of gallons of diluted bitumen. Twenty-two homes were evacuated, and the noxious odor, similar to that of asphalt, wafted for five miles. The Keystone Pipeline is designed to carry nine times as much as the Pegasus pipeline.

The Arkansas disaster was just one week after the Senate voted to support the Keystone Pipeline, perhaps persuaded by a State Department draft report, authored by a person with extensive ties to oil companies, claiming that the Keystone Pipeline will have no environmental impact. Congress has no control over the project; it is the State Department that makes the final decision.

Two days before the Pegasus spill, a train carrying tar sands oil spilled 15,000 gallons in Minnesota. During that week, Exxon got a $1.7 million fine for its pipeline that dumped 42,000 gallons of oil in the Yellowstone River in 2011. The fine is miniscule, 0.004 percent of Exxon’s $45 billion profit last year.

The pipeline transports diluted bitumen because bitumen is in a solid or semi-solid state that can be sludge or rock-like and must be diluted into a liquid to move through the pipe. The industry won’t tell anyone what it uses to dilute the bitumen.

The first Environmental Impact Statement gave Keystone an “inadequate” rating because of no information on the diluents. In 2011, Cynthia Quarterman, the agency director of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, testified in the House of Representatives that her agency, the regulatory one for the pipeline, had no idea whether dilbit is more dangerous in transport than ordinary crudes and had not studied the issue.

The second EIS, released this past month, shows that no one knows anything more about the contents of the diluents or how it will react to a spill. Instead the report waffled by saying that the diluted bitumen does “behave as a conventional crude oil.” The EPA does report on the damage to animals, plants, and humans of benzene, a very toxic chemical remaining in the air after the Enbridge tar sands spill of 2011.

This spill in Michigan, which released a million gallons of dilbit in the Kalamazoo River and cost more than $820 million, still challenges scientists and regulators as they try to remove submerged oil from the riverbed. Thirty-two months after the Enbridge spill, the Kalamazoo River still has oil, and the cost has risen to over $700 million dollars. Conservation groups, with evidence, that sands oil leads to more spills because it is “highly corrosive, acidic and potentially unstable.”

So back to the oil spill in Arkansas. Exxon-Mobil expressed regret and apologized. But who will fix it? The state Oil and Gas Commission can’t do anything because the U.S. Department of Transportation is in charge. That means that the state can’t inspect the spill or the pipeline and that the state has no oversight over this disaster.

Exxon won’t have to pay one cent for the clean-up. The company confirmed that the pipeline was carrying “low-quality Wabasca Heavy crude oil from Alberta” that had to be diluted. According to a 1980 law, diluted bitumen is not classified as oil, and companies transporting it in pipelines do not have to pay into the federal Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund. Other conventional crude producers pay 8 cents a barrel to ensure the fund has resources to help clean up some of the 54,000 barrels of pipeline oil that spilled 364 times last year.

The Keystone Pipeline is bad for United States economy:

The building of the pipeline won’t provide the number of jobs that the GOP promises: The State Department has estimated the project would create about 5,000 to 6,000 jobs for two years. After that it would require about 35 jobs a year.

Much of the oil refined in Texas will be exported to other countries: At least 60 percent of the gasoline produced in 2012 at Texas Gulf Coast refineries, the same ones the Keystone pipeline will serve, was exported. Exports will only rise because U.S. production is rising but consumption is declining and the industry can make more money through exports.

Many Canadians are opposed to the Keystone Pipeline: A year ago, a poll showed that nearly 42 percent of Canadians don’t want the pipeline. It is one of the world’s most environmentally damaging activities, wrecking vast areas of forest and sucking up huge quantities of water from local rivers before making it toxic and then dumping the contaminated water into ponds that now cover 70 square miles.

The Keystone Pipeline project will hurt both national and local economies: The increase of the earth’s temperature from burning tar sands oil can permanently cut the U.S. GDP by 2.5 percent at a time that 67 percent of U.S. counties have been hurt by at least one of the eleven $1 billion extreme weather events. Superstorm Sandy alone cost an estimated $80 billion, and the drought that affected 80 percent of farmland last summer destroyed one-fourth of the corn crop and did at least $20 billion damage to the nation’s economy. NASA climate scientist James E. Hansen said if all the oil was extracted from the oil sands it would be “game over” when it came to the effort to stabilize the climate.

The fossil fuel interests pushing the Keystone pipeline have cut, not created, jobs: While garnering $546 billion in profits between 2005 and 2010, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, and BP reduced their U.S. workforce by 11,200 employees. Forty percent of U.S oil-industry jobs consist of minimum-wage work at gas stations.

Unemployment will rise because of increasing disasters: Mark Zandi, the Chief Economist of Moody’s Analytics, reported that “Superstorm Sandy [sliced] an estimated 86,000 jobs from payrolls.” Two weeks after Hurricane Irene, the number of workers filing unemployment claims in Vermont rose from 731 to 1,331. Hurricane Katrina erased 129,000 jobs, almost 20 percent, in the New Orleans region. For the U.S. economy as a whole, 2011 cost US taxpayers $52 billion.

Poor and working people will be disproportionately affected: Keystone and projects like it have a disproportionately negative impact on already struggling working families. Sixteen states were afflicted by five or more extreme weather events in 2011-12; households in disaster-declared counties in these states earn $48,137, or seven percent below the U.S. median income.

Building the sustainable economy, not the Keystone pipeline, will create far more jobs: The solar industry creates jobs six times faster than the overall job market. Research shows a 13-percent growth in highly skilled solar jobs including installations, sales, marketing, manufacturing, and software development, bringing total direct jobs to 119,000 people. According to the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts–Amherst, investment in a green infrastructure program would create nearly four times as many jobs as an equal investment in oil and gas.

Congress is more inclined to vote in favor of Keystone, however, because of the lobbying money. At least fifty oil companies, business trade associations, labor unions, and political groups with combined lobbying budgets of more than $178 million paid politicians to suppport the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline in 2012. The dozen groups lobbying against the environmentally risky project had 2012 lobbying budgets of less than $5 million total.

How likely is it that the new Keystone Pipeline will have spills in addition to the 14 that they’ve had on the first part of the project? Isabel Brooks knows. When she and two friends locked themselves one night inside part of the pipeline in Winona (TX), they were amazed to see sunlight coming through gaping holes in the pipe the next morning from faulty welding. Law requires independent inspection, but TransCanada pipeline contracts can pick their own inspectors.

Brooks got her photographs of the holes in the pipeline shortly before the three protesters were arrested and jailed for 24 days. That gave TransCanada time to bury the pipeline without inspecting it. This is the same pipeline that runs under the Ogalalla aquifer which provides drinking water to millions of people in the United States.

Utah kids are being taught to support the use of oil. As a part of Earth Day, the Department of Oil, Gas, and Mining is sponsoring a poster contest for all kids grades K-6 with the theme, “Where Would WE Be Without Oil, Gas, and Mining?” State winners get $500 for their schools and are honored at the Earth Day Awards Luncheon.

The sponsors—and teachers—probably won’t be telling students that the EPA has ranked Salt Lake City among the worst U.S. metropolitan areas for air pollution close to Los Angeles. Other Utah cities–Logan, Provo, and Brigham City respectively — took the top three spots on the EPA’s worst air quality list in January.

Of course, the Keystone Pipeline won’t be going through Utah.

January 10, 2013

Shell Drilling Would Destroy Arctic Waters

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 8:34 PM
Tags: , , , , ,

Shell Oil has spent almost $5 billion trying to set up offshore oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean, but the disaster at the end of December will hopefully prevent them from doing this—at least for a while. On New Year’s Eve, the 28,000-ton Kulluk, carrying about 140,000 gallons of diesel, grounded near Kodiak Island, Alaska, after losing its towing lines in heavy winds. The Coast Guard is coordinating a 500-plus person response to figure out the damage, but no one knows when or how they can regain control of the massive hulk.

One thing that is known is that Shell was most likely moving the rig in very harsh conditions to save $6 million in state taxes that they would pay if the rig stayed in Alaska waters on January 1. Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) has provided detailed information about this situation. Bad news for Shell: it’s still in Alaska waters. This is the company that wants rights to drill offshore in Arctic waters.

Some of Shell’s 2012 problems:

  • February: A Government Accountability Office report identified challenges related to Arctic offshore drilling and concluding that Shell’s “dedicated capabilities do not completely mitigate some of the environmental and logistical risks associated with the remoteness and environment of the region.”
  • February: Sixty members of congress, nearly 400,000 American citizens and 573 scientists urged the administration to halt Arctic offshore drilling.
  • April: Lloyd’s of London warned that responding to an oil spill in a region that is “highly sensitive to damage” would present “multiple obstacles, which together constitute a unique and hard-to-manage risk.” (Does that mean no insurance?)
  • April: German bank WestLB refused to provide financing for any offshore oil or gas drilling in the Arctic, saying the “risks and costs are simply too high.”
  • July: Shell lost control of its Noble Discoverer rig when the vessel slipped its mooring and came close to running aground in Dutch Harbor, Alaska.
  • July: Shell’s oil spill response barge, a key piece of oil spill response equipment, repeatedly failed to get Coast Guard certification keeping Shell from beginning drilling work on schedule.
  • August: Norwegian oil and gas company Statoil announces it will suspend its own plans to drill offshore in the Alaskan Arctic Ocean after watching Shell’s struggles. They said they were going to watch Shell before deciding to drill there.
  • September: A British parliamentary committee called for a halt to drilling in the Arctic Ocean until necessary steps are taken to protect the region from the potentially catastrophic consequences of an oil spill.
  • September: France-based Total SA, the fourth largest publicly traded oil and gas company in the world, became the first major oil producer to admit that offshore drilling in Arctic waters is a risky idea, saying such operations could be a “disaster” and warning other companies against drilling in the region.
  • September: Shell’s containment barge repeatedly failed to receive Coast Guard approval which forced Shell to postpone exploratory drilling operations until 2013 and settle instead for beginning to drill two non-oil producing preparatory wells.
  • September: Shell suspends drilling as a massive ice pack covering approximately 360 square miles drifts toward the site just one day after starting its preparatory drilling.
  • November: More than a week after preparatory drilling ended for the season, Shell experienced a number of complications when it tried to get its Kulluk rig out of the Beaufort Sea more than a week after the preparatory drilling season ended.
  • December: Internal emails between Interior Department officials showed that the September test of Shell’s oil spill containment system was not just a failure but a complete disaster. The containment dome “breached like a whale” and was “crushed like a beer can” – and all in the comparatively temperate waters of Puget Sound.
  • December: Shell’s second drilling rig, Kulluk, slips its cables while being towed out of Alaska waters on an accelerated schedule in order to dodge paying Alaska taxes in 2013. The rig, along with its 150,000 gallons of fuel and drilling fluid, washes up on an uninhabited island along one of Alaska’s most pristine coastlines.

Yet in June, June, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told reporters “I believe there’s not going to be an oil spill.” The next month, Shell changed its spill response statement from recovering 95 percent of any spilled oil to encountering  95 percent of spilled oil with no provisions regarding what they would collect. Salazar now says the administration is committed to having exploration of oil in that region, but he isn’t sure it would happen this year. The Obama Administrations has ordered a sweeping review of Shell’s plans to drill in the Arctic.

Drilling rig Kulluk, photo from Alaska Dispatch

Drilling rig Kulluk, photo from Alaska Dispatch

Why can’t people trust Shell’s offshore drilling? Here are a few reasons beyond the company’s preference to save tax money rather than the environment:

  • Shell has no idea how much an oil spill clean-up would cost. That’s the word from Peter Velez, Shell’s head of emergency response in the Arctic.
  • Shell’s barge, the Arctic Challenger, was not deemed safe enough by the US government. The 36-year-old barge used to drag safety equipment through the ice is “no longer appropriate” for the Arctic environment—according to Shell!
  • The U.S. Coast Guard is “not confident” with Shell’s dispersants in the event of an oil spill. The commandant said, “I’m not confident what it will do in the colder water up in Alaska.”
  • Shell’s drill ship runs aground in a “stiff breeze.” The Noble Discoverer ran aground in the sheltered and relatively calm Dutch Harbour, Alaska, in a 35mph wind. Both this drill ship and the Kulluk are old, rusty vessels, and the Kulluk was mothballed for the last 13 years.
  • Shell’s drill ship catches fire. The Noble Discoverer caught fire when it returned to Dutch Harbour last November; the fire had to be put out by specialist fire crews.
  • Shell’s capping stack safety system was “crushed like a beer can” during testing. In December a Federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement revealed that this had happened three months earlier.
  • Shell’s Alaskan Vice-President admits: “There will be spills.” They just don’t know what to do about this.
  • Shell is more interested in money than safety. That’s what caused their oil rig, Kulluk, to run aground off the coast of Alaska while the company was trying to tow it back to Seattle. The Kullik hit heavy weather in the gulf of Alaska a few days earlier. Its 400-foot towing line broke and the rig drifted free. The tug managed to reconnect with the Kulluk, but it “experienced multiple engine failures” 50 miles south of Kodiak Island, causing the rig to drift free once again in 35-foot seas and 40-mph winds. The rig eventually ran aground on December 31, 2012, after another attempt to tow it away. The Kulluk has 139,000 gallons of diesel and 12,000 gallons of hydraulic oil on board.  Teams on the ground are currently still trying to secure the rig.

Tell Shell to stay out of the Arctic waters.

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