On Bakken oil in STrib…

December 16th, 2014

StankevitzHP105GridTie

Alan Stankevitz walks the walk, and  while his solar system powers his home, he tracks developments in oil transport on his DOT-111 Reader site.  In this STrib op ed, he exposes the truth about “regulations” ostensibly to deal with volatility of Bakken oil: “The bottom line is that the limit has been set so high by North Dakota that the mandate is toothless.”

Bakken dangers: Both the oil and the rail

Consider these numbers. Let’s dedicate ourselves to ending the smoke-and-mirrors game.

In announcing last week that it will require oil companies to “condition” Bakken oil before shipment, North Dakota’s Industrial Commission stated that “[t]his will significantly change the characteristics of crude oil.” What was not stated, however, is that this will have virtually no impact on the volatility of the oil shipped via rail through our communities and environment. Here’s why:

 The measure that is used to determine the volatility of flammable liquids is called RVP — Reid vapor pressure. The new North Dakota law that will go into effect on April 1 will set the limit on Bakken oil to no more than 13.7 RVP pounds per square inch (psi).

Let’s see how this regulation compares with what is already known (the lower the number, the less volatile the product is):

• Crude oil from the Gulf of Mexico has a RVP psi of approximately 3.

• For crude oil from the Eagle Ford shale formation in Texas, that number is approximately 8.

• For gasoline, it’s approximately 9.

• The Lac-Mégantic oil-train explosion in Quebec had a tested RVP psi just above 9.

• Bakken crude oil typically has a RVP psi between 11.5 and 11.8.

The bottom line is that the limit has been set so high by North Dakota that the mandate is toothless. The same volatile oil that caused the massive explosions in Casselton, N.D., and Lac-Mégantic would still have been allowed to ride the rails, according to this new mandate.

Of course, the petroleum industry has been protesting that the problem isn’t with the oil, it’s with the railroads. Although there is some truth to the fact that railroads should share in the blame, let’s also not forget it’s the petroleum industry that leases the DOT-111 tank cars that ride the rails.

The National Transportation Safety Board has stated numerous times that the DOT-111 tank cars hauling hazardous materials either need to be seriously upgraded or pulled from service completely.

Currently, the U.S. Department of Transportation is considering new rules to phase out some of the DOT-111s by 2020, but that only applies to trains hauling 20 or more of these tank cars. All others will be allowed to stay in service indefinitely.

So how much oil travels through Minnesota per day on these deficient DOT-111s?

From records released this year, we know that approximately 50 oil unit trains pass through Minnesota on a weekly basis. To put this into perspective, that’s about seven oil trains per day. That’s about 500,000 barrels of oil per day via rail. Currently, the Enbridge Alberta Clipper pipeline carries about 450,000 barrels per day.

For all practical purposes, we have a rail pipeline passing through our state — and research has shown that, on a per-mile basis, the accident rate is 3 to 3.5 times higher by rail vs. pipeline.

It’s time to stop this smoke-and-mirrors game. We need the petroleum and rail industries, along with our legislators, to meaningfully reduce the volatility of Bakken oil and to remove from service DOT-111 tank cars that carry all hazardous materials, not just the oil in trains with 20 or more cars. Doing anything less is continuing to put our citizens and environment at great risk.

 

Alan Stankevitz lives in La Crescent, Minn. His website “The DOT-111 Reader” (http://dot111.info) is a clearinghouse for information related to DOT-111 tank cars and subjects related to shipping crude oil via rail.

And another along the same lines, by Lisa Westberg Peters:

New Bakken volatility standards are pointless

  • Article by: LISA WESTBERG PETERS
  • Updated: December 15, 2014 – 6:45 PM

The explosion risk still exists, which emboldens pipeline supporters — but why must our choices be so dismal?

(Photo: Paul Chiasson • The Canadian Press/AP file,)
A large swath of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, was destroyed and 47 people were killed in July 2013 when a train carrying Bakken crude oil derailed, sparking several explosions and forcing the evacuation of up to 1,000 people.

++++++++++++++++++++++++

I’ve seen Bakken crude oil as it comes out of the ground. It was surprising in several ways: It was almost green, quite fluid and downright fizzy with natural gases. It’s the high gas content that makes Bakken shale oil so explosive.

When the state of North Dakota established new limits on vapor pressure last week for the oil shipped out of the state, my first reaction was relief. Flammable liquids with lower vapor pressures are less volatile. We’ve seen several explosive rail accidents in recent years involving Bakken oil; an oil train derailment last year in the small Quebec town of Lac-Mégantic killed 47 people and flattened its downtown. I was pleased that regulators were addressing this problem.

But when I took a closer look at the numbers, I felt more dismay than relief. Even if oil producers exceed the regulators’ demands — and regulators say they often do — Bakken crude will still be explosive.

The appropriate comparison seems to be gasoline.

Lynn Helms, head of the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources, said the new vapor pressure standard of 13.7 pounds per square inch (psi) would make Bakken crude no more volatile than the gasoline we put in our cars every day.

In March, an investigation by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada concluded that the Bakken oil in rail cars at Lac-Mégantic was “as volatile as gasoline,” but the vapor pressure was measured at 9 to around 9.5 psi. In other words, the Bakken crude that exploded in Lac-Mégantic was less volatile than what North Dakota regulators are demanding now, and it still exploded.

In a New York Times article last week, Clifford Krauss reported: “Once the rules are in force early next year, transported North Dakota crude oil will have a similar volatility to that of automobile gasoline, which should decrease the risk and size of any fire that might occur once a rail car is punctured in an accident, according to state regulators.” His story never mentioned the findings of the Canadian government.

Why wasn’t this New York Times reporter more skeptical of the assurances of North Dakota oil regulators, especially after the recent New York Times revelations about the leniency of regulators toward the oil industry?

The new vapor pressure standard announced last week is pointless. We will still face danger from exploding oil trains.

This disturbing fact tends to encourage pipeline supporters. Pipelines are safer, they say. In the past, oil transported by pipelines has tended not to explode and kill people; instead it spills and contaminates streams, lakes and aquifers. If you value people’s lives over clean water supply, in the short term, pipelines seem better.

But why do we have to make such lousy choices to keep our domestic energy boom rolling — to keep workers working and our dream of energy independence alive? Let’s do everything we can to encourage the other domestic energy boom, the wind and solar boom, that has already begun and that survives today despite many obstacles, including national policies that still encourage fossil fuel, yesterday’s energy source. If we were to place a price on carbon tomorrow, we would not need as many pipelines and we would be able to reduce the number of oil trains passing through our neighborhoods.

Climate experts urge us to leave much of the world’s remaining fossil fuel, including Bakken crude, in the ground. If we do as they advise, we will disrupt job markets and be forced to rethink the way we do almost everything. Why should we voluntarily face such disruption? One very good reason: We already face the prospect of pervasive disruption posed by a changing climate. It’s far preferable to take well-designed and systematic measures to control disruption than let disruption control us.

 

Lisa Westberg Peters is the author of “Fractured Land: The Price of Inheriting Oil” (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2014). She lives in Minneapolis with her family.

It’s the 2014 NERC Report!

December 12th, 2014

NERC-Logo

EEEEEEEEEE-HA!  The NERC Report is out:

2014 NERC Reliability Assessment

I love the NERC Report — the annual Long Term Reliability Assessment from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation.  Why?  Well, it’s a nice offset to the gloom and doom of the MTEP promotional pieces because NERC features tables like this:

2014 NERC-Wide Demand

What’s not to like about “NERC_Wide Demand: 10-Year Growth Rates (Summer and Winter) at Lowest Levels on Record” as a leading table?

Better yet, they go area by area, and show, even using utility provided data, that it’s not nearly as bad as the utilities claim in their hystrionic applications and testimony.  Let’s look at the bottom line in the section about MISO (click on table for larger view):

MISO Peak Demand Reserve Margins

NERC Reliability Assessment, p. 38 (or p. 46 of 115 pdf).  Note how this is NOT scary histrionic data here?!?!  Also note, they use coincident peak for forecasting, as they should.  If I hear one more “non-coincident peak” being used, I shall scream!

Again, it’s the 2014 NERC Reliability Assessment.  Check this out for a more rational view.

 

It’s that time of year… the time that we get to tell the Public Utilities Commission what does and does not work about the Power Plant Siting Act.  We’ve been doing it for years, 15 or so years, and have spent over a year now in a rulemaking on the PUC’s rules, Ch. 7849 (Certificate of Need) and Ch. 7850 (Power Plant & Transmission Siting) where some of these long complained of problems will be address (with any luck).  And now, again, it’s time to reinforce those comments with another round of comments:

Notice

After the hearing, now officiated by an Administrative Law Judge (new as of a few years ago), a report is issued to the PUC and then ???  It used to go to the legislature, and it used to go to the EQB… guess I have to find out what happens now.

December 19, 2014 beginning at 9:30 a.m.

Public Utilities Commission

3rd Floor Large Hearing Room

121 – 7th Place East

St. Paul, MN  55101

Each of you who have experience siting and routing of large electric energy facilities — this is the time to weigh in.  Remember that this is NOT project specific, it’s not about where a project goes of whether it does, but it’s about how the process works or doesn’t, so for example, it’s the time to let them know that notice isn’t being provided, or that witnesses should be sworn on oath so that testimony will be given more weight, etc.   You can do it in person, and you can do it by filing comments.

Here is the Power Plant Siting Act, which governs the siting and routing of large energy facilities:

Power Plant Siting Act – 216E

Here are some prior dockets (to access the entire docket, individual comments, etc., go to the PUC’s “SEARCH” site and plug in the docket numbers :

2000 Summary of Proceedings

2000 Report EQB

2001 Summary of Proceedings

2001 Report EQB

2002 Summary of Proceedings

2002 Report to EQB

2003 Summary of Proceedings

2003 Report to EQB

2004 Summary of Proceedings

2004 Report to EQB

2005 Report to PUC

2006 Report to PUC – Docket 06-1733

2007 Report to PUC – Docket 07-1579

2008 Report to PUC - Docket 08-1426

2009 Report to PUC – Docket 09-1351

2010 Report to PUC – Docket 10-222

2011 Report to PUC – Docket 11-324

2012 Report – Docket 12-360 -2012 Report Exhibits

2013 Report  – Docket 13-9650143-96999-01

20131208_110220One year ago — Bark & Ride Transport Polar Express

Here we go again!  21 dogs this time, including a nursing mother and her 8 pups, quite a van full.  Off to shelter soon to pick up crates.

sophie

pumkinmoses

 

 

laceylolly

jericho jasper

Busterharry

Over the years, I’ve had a lot of rescue dogs, and since I’ve moved to Red Wing, I’ve adopted Katze, Kenya, Krie, Kady, Little Sadie, and Summer.   The only one left now is Little Sadie, who I hope has another decade of life.  But there are so many dogs who need help.  I’ve been on the Board of Humane Society for Goodhue County for a few years now, but that’s different than direct work for animals.  Our grrrrrrls have been either from the shelter here in Red Wing (Katze, Krie, and Little Sadie), or from rescues who got them out of difficult or horrible situations.  Kenya was in the middle of two divorces and left with no where to live twice in her five years before I got her.   Kady came up from Georgia, on an I-95 transport, up to Marcus Hook to 6th Angel German Shepherd Rescue, and then fostered on Long Island as she recovered from heartworm treatment and, though her pup was adopted, she spent a year waiting for us — we were luck she was there and she decided she wanted to come home with us.

Anyway, we started doing occasional dog transports, the first, a year ago for the 2013 Polar Express, where we met Birdo:

Birdo3_20131208_162149

And an adorable pile o’ pooping puppies (they seem to let loose about half an hour after transfer into the van!):

20131208_145019_3

And then last July, Nora and another van full (there’s always got to be one lap dog, that’s Alan’s favorite part of this!):

20140720_130339

So here we go, doing dog laundry and cleaning crates, on the road again!

 

sandblowing

The silica sand rulemaking process drags on and will probably end soon.  Meetings have been going on for a year now, and what is there to show for it?  Not much.  But as of yesterday, there are some draft rules!  YES!  About time…

There was a Comment Period that ended in November, and here are the Comments:

MPCA’s rulemaking – Response to second request for comments

Very few comments were filed — only 10 (I’d attached a previous comment to this one, but it was stuck separately at the top of the pile) — why so few comments, what’s up with that?

As for rulemaking, there’s been a little bit of progress reported by Katie Himanga (THANK YOU, Katie!) after yesterday’s meeting of the “Advisory Panel.”  Word from that meeting is that “ALL AGENCIES PLAN TO GO TO PUBLIC NOTICE IN THE 1ST QUARTER OF 2015.“  And so it looks like the January 8 meeting will be the last one, January 8 is scheduled, and no others show on the Advisory Panel site (but they could always add more, as they have in the past).

The Agenda is posted, but the meeting materials weren’t there yet.  So I checked with Nathan Cooley, and he sent them right over:

20141204 10th SSRAP Agenda

20141125 Draft Silica Sand Emission Rule (Draft Proposed Rules Governing Emissions from Silica Sand Projects)

DEFINITIONS_EQB (silica sand related definitions, rule and statute)

EXHIBIT M (AMBIENT AIR MONITORING PROCEDURES for
DETERMINATION OF COMPLIANCE, 12/18/2013)

SSRAP__DRAFT EQB__12__4__2014_CLEAN (this is proposed language to insert silica sand mines/project/facilities into EAW and EIS categories)

Here’s how Cooley ended that missive, definitely a “don’t call me, I’ll call you” sort of finale:

There is no current request for public comment on silica sand rulemaking. We remain focused on seeking representative input from the SSRAP panel. Thanks for your interest and your understanding.

Well, Advisory Panel, he’s saying it’s up to you!  You’re our representatives!