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Dairyland to Petrostate: Wisconsin Oil-By-Rail Routes Published for First Time

1:51 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog 

A BNSF train engine heading north

BNSF and other rail companies are carrying dangerous oil tankers through Wisconsin.

DeSmogBlog is publishing the first documents ever obtained from the Wisconsin government revealing routes for oil-by-rail trains in the state carrying oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in the Bakken Shale basin.

The information was initially submitted to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) under the auspices of a May 7 Emergency Order, which both the federal government and the rail industry initially argued should only be released to those with a “need to know” and not the public at-large.

The Wisconsin documents show the three companies that send Bakken crude trains through the state — Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF), Union Pacific and Canadian Pacific — all initially argued routes are “sensitive security information” only to be seen by those with a “need to know.”

As covered in a previous DeSmogBlog article revealing the routes of oil trains traveling through North Dakota for the first time, the rail industry used this same line of legal argument there and beyond.

Wisconsin Emergency Management did not buy the argument, though, and released the documents to DeSmogBlog through the state’s Public Records Act.

BNSF Hugs the Mississippi

As with North Dakota, BNSF is the chief mover of oil-by-rail in Wisconsin.

BNSF is owned by Warren Buffett, one of the richest men on the planet and a major campaign contributor to President Barack Obama and expected major donor for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential bid.

According to the records it submitted to Wisconsin Emergency Management, BNSF moves the majority of its crude-by-rail trains along the state’s western corridor, which hugs the Mississippi River.

For the week of June 5 through June 11, records show BNSF sent 39 oil-by-rail trains through Buffalo County, La Crosse County, Pepin County, Pierce County and Trempealeau County. All of these counties border the Mississippi.

As covered here on DeSmogBlog in January, the BNSF-owned Bakken oil train that exploded in Casselton, North Dakota on December 30, 2013 was headed to a Mississippi River terminal in Missouri owned by Marquis Energy.

Canadian Pacific Hugs Lake Michigan

While BNSF dominates Wisconsin’s Mississippi River corridor, Canadian Pacific does the same — albeit to a much lesser extent — along another major body of water: Lake Michigan.

According to the data submitted by the company, Canadian Pacific ships three to five train-loads of Bakken oil per week through Milwaukee County, Racine County and Kenosha County. Canadian Pacific slices through the heart of the state in a west-to-east transit route to reach Milwaukee County.

Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha all border Lake Michigan. And once it crosses into northeastern Illinois, the rail line sits in close proximity to Lake Michgan, particularly in Waukegan (a train line traversed many times by this writer, a Kenosha native).

Canadian Pacific owns a major rail transload facility — Great Lakes Reloading — located on the southeast side of Chicago. It sits close to both Lake Michigan and the Calumet River.

Great Lakes Reloading serves as a key thoroughfare for many of the company’s freight rail transportation routes, including for crude-by-rail.

Union Pacific: Didn’t Meet Threshold

Industry giant Union Pacific did not meet the oil-by-rail carriage threshold that requires companies to submit routes to State Emergency Response Commissions (SERCs), one of which is Wisconsin Emergency Management.

That threshold, as explained by Union Pacific in its letter to Wisconsin Emergency Management, is one million gallons of Bakken crude per week.

Union Pacific is perhaps best known to many in southeast Wisconsin and northeast Illinois for its Metra public transit line running from Kenosha to Chicago (and vice versa) and from Chicago to many Chicago-area suburbs (and vice versa).

From America’s Dairyland to Petrostate?

Read the rest of this entry →

Oil-By-Rail: A Battle Between “Right to Know” & “Need to Know”

11:35 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog 

BNSF Oil Train preparing to head north.

BNSF claims their oil train routes are secrets protected by law.

Since the first major oil-by-rail explosion occurred on July 6, 2013, in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, citizens in communities across the U.S. have risen up when they’ve learned their communities are destinations for volatile oil obtained from hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in North Dakota’s Bakken Shale basin.

As the old adage goes, ignorance is bliss. It’s also one of the keys to how massive oil-by-rail infrastructure was built in just a few short years — the public simply didn’t know about it.

Often, oil companies are only required to get state-level air quality permits to open a new oil-by-rail facility.

Terry Wechsler, an environmental attorney in Washington, recently explained to Reuters why there was no opposition to the first three oil-by-rail facilities in the area.

“There was no opposition to the other three proposals only because we weren’t aware they were in formal permitting,” he said

The same thing unfolded in Albany, N.Y., where there is an ongoing battle over expansion of the major oil-by-rail facility set to process tar sands crude sent by rail from Alberta. The initial permits for the oil rail transfer facility, which would allow two companies to bring in billions of gallons of oil a year, were approved with no public comment.

Oil and rail companies know well that they can proceed with their planned expansions more easily if communities remain unaware of their plans.

And now that some states — including North Dakota — have defied their efforts to keep the public in the dark about the crude-carrying trains, the public will have a much clearer idea of what’s going on.

A case in point, DeSmogBlog recently revealed crude-by-rail giant Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) moves up to 45 trains a week in some North Dakota counties and up to three dozen in others.

Big Rail’s Big Bluff

The rail industry has enjoyed a long history of legal protections, allowing it to operate in secrecy with regards to carrying hazardous materials. Indeed, Big Rail pushed hard to fight the release of information to the public on the transportation of Bakken crude oil.

This time around, the rail industry said that information it was compelled to give the federal government on its Bakken oil shipments under the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) May 7 Emergency Order could not be released to the public under state-level open records laws.

Why? Because it fell under the category of “sensitive security information.”

In boilerplate letters and contract proposals sent to heads of State Emergency Response Commissions — one of which was obtained via Idaho’s Public Records Act by DeSmogBlog — BNSF deployed this argument.

This legal designation means BNSF and other companies could withhold information regarding the movements of Bakken crude from the public — by exempting it from state-level open records laws — and would only have to release it to the emergency response commissions.

“It is important to note that this information is subject to several restrictions on its release and exemptions from both state and federal applicable Freedom of Information laws and should only be provided to persons meeting with the appropriate need-to-knows discussed below,” BNSF wrote in its boilerplate letter.

BNSF considers this information commercial confidential and business confidential information and Security Sensitive Information pursuant to Federal law, and the documents have been marked accordingly.

But despite BNSF’s legal claims, some states have released this information in response to open records requests. And the federal government has also leaned toward advocating for greater transparency.

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) confirmed by e-mail to the Sacramento Bee that the administration did not consider this information “security sensitive,” stating, “TSA has not made a finding as to whether or not information concerning the volume of crude oil train traffic or the routes used by these trains is considered security-sensitive information.

The Federal Railroad Administration also concluded information about Bakken crude was not considered sensitive security information.

Community’s Right to Know

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s website contains a section on right to know laws. That section opens by stating, “Every American has the right to know the chemicals to which they may be exposed in their daily living.”

Read the rest of this entry →

DeSmogBlog First to Publish North Dakota Oil-By-Rail Routes

9:40 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog 

A BNSF train engine heading north

Warren Buffett’s BNSF is a leader in moving fracked oil from North Dakota’s Bakken fields.

For the first time, DeSmogBlog has published dozens of documents obtained from the North Dakota government revealing routes and chemical composition data for oil-by-rail trains in the state carrying oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in the Bakken Shale.

The information was initially submitted to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) under the legal dictates of a May 7 Emergency Order, which both the federal government and the rail industry initially argued should only be released to those with a “need-to-know” and not the public at-large.

North Dakota’s Department of Emergency Services, working in consultation with the North Dakota Office of the Attorney General, made the documents public a couple weeks after DeSmogBlog filed a June 13 North Dakota Public Records Statute request.

“There is no legal basis to protect what they have provided us at this point,” North Dakota assistant attorney general Mary Kae Kelsch said during the June 25 Department of Emergency Service’s quarterly meeting, which DeSmogBlog attended via phone. “It doesn’t meet any criteria for our state law to protect this.”

Initially, oil-by-rail giant Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) and other rail companies sent boilerplate letters — one copy of which has been obtained by DeSmogBlog from the Idaho Bureau of Homeland Security through the state’s Public Records Act — to several State Emergency Response Commissions (SERCs), arguing train routes should be kept confidential.

BNSF also sent several SERCs a boilerplate contract proposal, requesting that they exempt the information rail companies were compelled to submit to the SERCs under the DOT Emergency Order from release under Freedom of Information Act. A snippet of the proposed contract can be seen below:

Dan Wilz, homeland security division director and state security advisor of the Department of Emergency Services, said the claims did not hold legal water.

“Joe can stand on a street corner and figure that out within a week’s period,” Wilz said at the quarterly meeting. “They watch the trains go through their community each and every day.”

BNSF, Canadian Pacific Railway (CP Rail) and Northern Plains Railroad all submitted information to the Department of Emergency Services.

CP Rail: 7 Trains/Week, “Highly Flammable”

In its submission to the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services, CP Rail revealed it sent seven oil-by-rail trains through 13 counties in North Dakota the week of June 9-15. CP Rail also estimated it generally sends 2-5 trains through those same counties during an average week.

Some oil-by-rail trains, dubbed “bomb trains” by some due to their propensity to explode, carry over 2,677,500 gallons of fracked oil. The trains are often over a mile in length and contain over 100 cars.

The company also released information on the chemical composition of the Bakken oil it sends on its rail cars, conceding that Bakken oil is “highly flammable” and “easily ignited by heat, sparks or flames.”

Further, CP Rail admitted that Bakken oil has “a very low flash point” and that “water spray when fighting [its] fire may be inefficient.”

BNSF: Bakken Oil-By-Rail King

BNSF, owned by Warren Buffett — a major campaign contributor to President Barack Obama both in 2008 and 2012 and one of the richest men on the planet — is widely considered the king of oil-by-rail in the U.S. The documents BNSF released to the Department of Emergency Services back up the notion.

One document shows BNSF sent 31 oil-by-rail trains through Cass County, North Dakota during the week of May 29 – June 4, also saying it sends between 30-45 trains per week on average through the County. That same week, 30 BNSF trains zoomed through Barnes County, North Dakota.

A document filed the next week, covering June 5 – June 11, shows 45 trains passed through Cass County that week. Another 37 passed through Ward County, North Dakota and another 33 through McHenryPierce and Mountrail counties.

Northern Plains: Chemical Composition Revealed

In its DOT submission, Northern Plains included an expansive Bakken crude oil sample chemical composition test submitted by Musket Corporation, which has a terminal and transload site in North Dakota.

Read the rest of this entry →

White House Meeting Logs: Big Rail Lobbying Against “Bomb Train” Regulations It Publicly Touts

10:21 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

The rail industry offers up claims about how much it cares about safety when speaking to the public. But behind closed doors, the public relations pitch goes by the wayside in favor of hard-nosed lobbying muscle to avoid accountability.

The Obama White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) has held the majority of its meetings on the proposed federal oil-by-rail safety regulations with oil and gas industry lobbyists and representatives.

But OIRA meeting logs reviewed by DeSmogBlog reveal that on June 10, theAmerican Association of Railroads (AAR) and many of its dues-paying members also had a chance to convene with OIRA.

Big Rail has talked a big game to the public about its desire for increased safety measures for its trains carrying oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in the Bakken Shale. What happens behind closed doors, the meeting logs show, tells another story.

At the June 12-13 Railway Age Oil-by-Rail Conference, just two days after rail industry representatives met with OIRA, American Association of Railroads President Edward Hamberg, former assistant secretary for governmental affairs at the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), made the case for safety.

“Railroads believe that federal tank car standards should be raised to ensure crude oil and other flammable liquids are moving in the safest car possible based on the product they are moving,” said Hamberg.

“The industry also wants the existing crude oil fleet upgraded through retrofits or older cars to be phased out as quickly as possible.”

Yet despite public declarations along these lines, proactive safety measures were off the table for all four of Big Rail’s presentations to OIRA.

Though private discussions, the documents made public from the meeting show one consistent message from the rail industry: safety costs big bucks. And these are bucks industry is going to fight against having to spend.

Massive War Room

Those present at the June 10 OIRA meeting included representatives from AAR, the American Short Line & Regional Railroad Association, Union PacificBurlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF), CSX CorporationNorfolk Southern and the DOT.

Akin to the gargantuan war room in the film “Dr. Strangelove,” 26 people took part in the session.

Invitees included Meredith Kelsch, senior attorney for DOT; Orest Dachniwsky, associate general counsel for BNSF; Robert Schmidt, senior manager of operations and casualty analysis for Union Pacific; and Richard Theroux, who has worked at the Office of Management and Budget — parent of OIRA — for nearly three decades.

“19th Century Technology”

The heading on the first slide of CSX’s presentation for OIRA stated, “ECP brakes are expensive and do not offer material safety advantages.”

ECP is industry shorthand for Electronically Controlled Pneumatic brakes, currently considered the best available brakes in the business.

At a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) hearing in April, Richard Connor, safety specialist for DOT’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), gave a presentation comparing the conventional air brake system used on most freight trains to the ECP brakes passed over by CSX.

“I’m not sure with the audience if you all understand how the current air brake systems on our freight trains out there operate today, but it’s basically 19th century technology,” said Connor.

Connor also described the performance of the brakes in an emergency situation as “painfully slow” in comparing ECP’s response time to that of the conventional braking system.

“One of the biggest advantages of ECP is that signal to apply your brakes…is going at the speed of light…it’s a much quicker signal,” he said.

Connor also discussed how ECP would “offer material safety advantages” over current technology in an oil train accident, even if expensive.

“For the purpose of why we would want ECP on, say, a unit train like these oil trains, [it’s] to reduce the impact of a derailment or reduce the damages caused by a derailment of these types of trains,” explained Connor.

“[The purpose] is you get a much quicker application, you reduce that kinetic energy involved with that train.”

Speed-Racing

BNSF serves as the Queen Bee in the oil-by-rail world.

Read the rest of this entry →

Meeting Logs: Obama Quietly Coddling Big Oil on “Bomb Trains” Regulations

8:53 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

The exploding CSX Corporation oil-by-rail train in Lynchburg, Virginia owned by Plains All American was on its way to the Yorktown facility. Yorktown has been marked a potential export terminal if the ban on exporting U.S. oil is lifted.

When Richard Revesz, Dean Emeritus of New York University Law School, introduced Howard Shelanski at his only public appearance so far during his tenure as Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), Revesz described Shelanski as, “from our perspective, close to the most important official in the federal government.”

OIRA has recently reared its head in a big way because it is currently reviewing the newly-proposed oil-by-rail safety regulations rolled out by the Department of Transportation (DOT) and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).

During his presentation at NYU, Shelanski spoke at length about how OIRA must use “cost-benefit analysis” with regards to regulations, stating, “Cost-benefit analysis is an essential tool for regulatory policy.”

But during his confirmation hearings, Shelanski made sure to state his position on how cost-benefit analysis should be used in practice. Shelanski let corporate interests know he was well aware of their position on the cost of regulations and what they stood to lose from stringent regulations.

“Regulatory objectives should be achieved at no higher cost than is absolutely necessary,” Shelanski said at the hearing.

With the “cost-benefit analysis” regarding environmental and safety issues for oil-by-rail in OIRA’s hands, it appears both the oil and rail industries will have their voices heard loudly and clearly by the White House.

A DeSmogBlog review of OIRA meeting logs confirms that in recent weeks, OIRAhas held at least ten meetings with officials from both industries on oil-by-rail regulations. On the flip side, it held no meetings with public interest groups.

“Cost-Benefit”: A Brief History

OIRA was created in 1980 by President Ronald Reagan with the goal of getting rid of “intrusive” regulations.

“By instructing agencies to clear drafts of regulations through OIRA, Presidents have made the agency…a virtual choke point for federal regulation,” explains theCenter for Progressive Reform, a think-tank critical of OIRA and its cost-benefit analysis.

Cost-benefit analysis was put on the map by Harvard Law School professor Cass Sunstein, “regulatory czar” and head of OIRA for President Barack Obama before Shelanski. Read the rest of this entry →

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

10:34 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

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. CSXCEO 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.

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.

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.

Yorktown: Future Oil Export Mecca?

In February, Plains CEO Greg Armstrong said on the company’s quarter four earnings call that Yorktown is ideally situated geographically to become an oil export mecca if the ban is lifted.

When asked by an analyst from Bank of America about the ongoing debate over lifting the crude oil export ban, Armstrong discussed how Plains could stand to profit from exports.

“Ultimately we’re positioned, we think well for either answer if they allow blanket exports we have assets in the right places that can help build that market niche,” said Anderson.

Harry Pefanis, President and COO for Plains, sang a similar tune to Anderson.

“I guess if I also just add to that if there was export…we’ve got couple of locations that we could load ocean-going vessels. Yorktown is a location where we can rail-in and load out an ocean-going vessel,” Pefanis explained.

The industry lobbying effort to lift the U.S.-produced oil export ban has picked up major steam in 2014, with the geopolitical crisis in Ukraine and Russia serving as the hook.

Keystone XL Connection

It’s only a matter of time until the familiar oil industry overture begins. That is, pointing to the Lynchburg disaster as the reason why the northern leg of TransCanada’s Keystone XL tar sands pipeline must be built.

Read the rest of this entry →

Days Before Oil Train Explosion, Obama Signed Bill Hastening Fracking Permits on ND Public Lands

6:57 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Obama

President Obama eases fracking regulations days before explosive crash.

On December 20, both chambers of the U.S. Congress passed a little-noticed bill to expedite permitting for hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) on public lands in the Bakken Shale basin, located predominantly in North Dakota. And on December 26, President Obama signed the bill into law.

Days later, on December 30, a Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) freight train owned by Warren Buffett carrying Bakken fracked oil exploded in Casselton, North Dakota. Locals breathed a smoky sigh of relief that the disaster happened outside the town center. In July 2013, a “bomb train” carrying Bakken oil exploded in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, killing 47 people.

Dubbed the “Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Streamlining Act,” the bill passed unanimously in the Senate as S.244 and 415-1 in the House as H.R. 767, with Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) serving as the sole “nay” vote and 16 representatives abstaining. Among the abstentions were representatives Peter Defazio (D-OR), Henry Waxman (D-CA) and John Campbell (R-CA).

H.R. 767′s sponsor is North Dakota Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer, who received $213,150 from the oil and gas industry prior to the 2012 election, and an additional $29,000 for the forthcoming 2014 elections.

Cosponsors include Wyoming Republican Rep. Cynthia Lummis ($109,050 from the oil and gas industry pre-2012 election, $28,500 in the 2014 election cycle), South Dakota Republican Rep. Kristi Noem ($95,501 from the industry pre-2012 election, $20,400 pre-2014) and Montana Republican Rep. Steve Daines ($124,620 pre-2012 election and $87,412 pre-2014).

S.244 is sponsored by Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND), who has taken $291,237 from the oil and gas industry since his 2010 election to Congress. Cosponsor Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) received $111,050 from the oil and gas industry since her 2012 electoral victory.

Sen. Hoeven visited BNSF’s Fort Worth, Texas, corporate headquarters on January 3 to meet with the company’s CEO, Matt Rose, “to get an update on the Casselton derailment and measures that can be taken to enhance railroad safety.”

“While it’s a blessing that no one was hurt in this accident, we must now work with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), industry and leaders on all levels to get to the root cause of this week’s derailment,” Hoeven said in a press statement, not mentioning the bill he sponsored will create additional oil-by-rail markets.

“We also need to rigorously review ways that shipping petroleum products by rail can be improved for safety.”

Energy Policy Act of 2005 Amendment

The BLM Streamlining Act passed into law by the Obama administration is actually an amendment to Section 365 of the Bush-era 2005 Energy Policy Act. It creates offices in North Dakota and Montana to rubber stamp fracking permits on public lands in those states.

Section 365 created a “Pilot Project to Improve Federal Permit Coordination” on public lands “to improve coordination of oil and gas permitting…as a means of meeting the Nation’s need for dependable, affordable, environmentally responsible energy,” explains the BLM website.

This compelled BLM to set up field offices to more efficiently fast track oil and gas drilling permits in Rawlins and Buffalo, Wyoming; Miles City, Montana; Farmington and Carlsbad, New Mexico; Grand Junction/Glenwood Springs, Colorado; and Vernal, Utah.

Left out of the original Section 365: North Dakota, the new darling of the U.S. domestic oil fracking scene. The BLM Streamlining Act ”[r]eplaces the Miles City, Montana field office with the Montana/Dakotas State Office,” creating an open season for fracking North Dakota’s public lands.

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 is perhaps most famous for the “Halliburton Loophole,” which exempted the fracking industry from the legal dictates of the Safe Drinking Water Act and other laws. The loophole also made the chemicals contained in “fracking fluid” a trade secret, meaning the industry doesn’t have to disclose the recipe of chemicals injected into the ground in fracking operations.

Obama Executive Order: Fast-Track Bakken Permits

In March 2012, President Obama issued Executive Order 13604, lending an explanation to his signing off on the BLM Streamlining Act.

Obama announced the Order while standing in front of the sections of pipe that would soon become the southern half of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline (now rebranded the “Gulf Coast Pipeline“) in Cushing, Oklahoma (the “pipeline crossroads of the world“) — a pipeline that will be fast-tracked by the Order.

Read the rest of this entry →

Missouri Permit Shows Exploding ND Oil Train Contained High Levels of Volatile Chemicals

11:36 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Casselton train fire, photo from Kyle Potter and The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead

On January 2, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) issued a major safety alert, declaring oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in the Bakken Shale may be more chemically explosive than the agency or industry previously admitted publicly.

This alert came three days after the massive Casselton, ND explosion of a freight rail train owned by Warren Buffett‘s Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) and was the first time the U.S. Department of Transportation agency ever made such a statement about Bakken crude. In July 2013, another freight train carrying Bakken crude exploded in Lac-Mégantic, vaporizing and killing 47 people.

Yet, an exclusive DeSmogBlog investigation reveals the company receiving that oildownstream from BNSF — Marquis Missouri Terminal LLC, incorporated in April 2012 by Marquis Energy — already admitted as much in a September 2012 permit application to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

The BNSF Direct ”bomb train” that exploded in Casselton was destined for Marquis’ terminal in Hayti, Missouri, according to Reuters. Hayti is a city of 2,939 located along the Mississippi River. From there, Marquis barges the oil southward along the Mississippi, where Platts reported the oil may eventually be refined in a Memphis, Tennessee-based Valero refinery.

According to Marquis’ website, its Hayti, Missouri terminal receives seven of BNSF Direct’s 118-unit cars per week, with an on-site holding terminal capacity of 550,000 barrels of oil.

Marquis was one of many companies in attendance at a major industry conference in Houston, Texas in February 2013, called “Upgrading Crude By Rail Capacity.” Its September 2012 Missouri DNR permit application lends additional insight into how and why BNSF’s freight train erupted so intensely in Casselton.

“Special Conditions”

Rather than a normal permit, Marquis was given a “special conditions” permit because the Bakken oil it receives from BNSF contains high levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), the same threat PHMSA noted in its recent safety alert.

Among the most crucial of the special conditions: Marquis must flare off the VOCs before barging the oil down the Mississippi River. (Flaring is already a highly controversial practice in the Bakken Shale region, where gas is flared off at rates comparable to Nigeria.)

It’s a tacit admission that the Bakken Shale oil aboard the exploded BNSF train in Casselton, ND is prone to such an eruption.

“Hazardous Air Pollutant (HAP) emissions are expected from the proposed equipment,” explains the Marquis permit. “There will be evaporative losses of Toluene, Xylene, Hexane, and Benzene from the crude oil handled by the installation.”

Benzene is a carcinogen, while toluenexylene and hexane are dangerous volatiles that can cause severe illnesses or even death at high levels of exposure.

Scientific Vindication

In a December 31 Google Hangout conversation between actor Mark Ruffalo, founder of Water Defense, and the group’s chief scientist Scott Smith, Mr. Smith discussed the oil samples he collected on a previous visit to North Dakota’s Bakken Shale.

“What I know from the testing I’ve done on my own — I went out to the Bakken oil fields and pumped oil from the well — I know there are unprecedented levels of these explosive volatiles: benzene, toluene, xylene,” said Smith.

“And from the data that I’ve gotten from third parties and tested myself, 30 to 40 percent of what’s going into those rail cars are explosive volatiles, again that are not in typical oils.”

In an interview with DeSmogBlog, Smith said Marquis Energy’s Missouri DNR permit application is in line with his own scientific findings, a vindication of sorts in the aftermath of the Casselton explosion.

“We must work to better understand the risks involved with the transportation of unconventional crude oil, whether diluted bitumen or Bakken fracked oil,” Smith told DeSmogBlog.

“It all starts with scientifically and transparently understanding exactly what is in these crude oils, and working to set new safety standards to protect human lives and all waterways, wetlands, marshes and sensitive ecosystems.”

It may be the dead of winter in North Dakota, but the Casselton explosion has shined a bright light on the myriad serious threats of Bakken oil rolling down the tracks through the backyards of thousands of Americans. The industry’s secrecy about the explosiveness of this oil just went up in flames.

But how will the public react to the news that industry knew this could happen all along? With the Dec. 30 explosion in Casselton, and the deadly Bakken oil train explosion in Lac Megantic, Quebec last July, all North Americans ought to question the wisdom of extracting and transporting this highly dangerous oil. Read the rest of this entry →

Warren Buffett Buys Pipeline Company Stake on Same Day as North Dakota Train Explosion

9:42 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

On December 30, the same day a Burlington Northern Sante Fe (BNSF) oil train derailed and exploded in Casselton, North Dakota, Warren Buffett — owner of holding company giant Berkshire Hathaway, which owns BNSF — bought a major stake in pipeline logistics company Phillips Specialty Products Inc.

Owned by Phillips 66, a subsidiary of ConocoPhillips, Phillips Specialty Products’ claim to fame is lubricating oil’s movement through pipelines,increasingly crucial for the industry to move both tar sands crude and oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in an efficient manner.

“Phillips Specialty Products Inc … is the global leader in the science of drag reduction and specializes in maximizing the flow potential of pipelines,” explains its website.

Buffett — the second richest man in the world — sees the flow lubricant business as a lucrative niche one, increasingly so given the explosion of North American tar sands pipelines and fracked oil pipelines.

“I have long been impressed by the strength of the Phillips 66 business portfolio,” he said of the deal in a press release. “The flow improver business is a high-quality business with consistently strong financial performance, and it will fit well within Berkshire Hathaway.”

Already owning 27 million shares of Phillips 66, the marriage between Berkshire and Phillips 66 was a natural one. Corporate law firm giant Bracewell & Giuliani provided Phillips 66 legal representation for the deal.

Buffett Cashing in on All Facets of Big Oil

Few understand the increasing importance of freight rail transportation of oil better than Buffett. But he also understands it’s not an either-or choice: pipelines also are key for moving oil to targeted markets.

In the rail sphere alone, BNSF moves over 1 million barrels per day of Bakken crude to market, with The Dallas Morning News declaring in June 2013 that “without BNSF, the great North Dakota oil boom wouldn’t be as big.”

On top of Phillips Specialty Products and BNSF, Buffett also bought a $3 billion stake in ExxonMobil in November 2013. This came just a few months after he purchased over half-a-billion dollar stake in Suncor.

Far from “either-or,” for Buffett then, it’s a game of investing in “all of the above” of Big Oil’s assets.

“Dodged a Bullet”

In the aftermath of the BNSF’s massive freight train explosion in Casselton, Mayor Ed McConnell told the press the city with 2,329 citizens was lucky to have “dodged a bullet,” with no fatalities from the disaster.

“There have been numerous derailments in this area,” he told The Associated Press. “It’s almost gotten to the point that it looks like not if we’re going to have an accident, it’s when. We dodged a bullet by having it out of town, but this is too close for comfort.”

In July 2013, another “bullet” came in the form of a freight train carrying oil obtained via fracking in North Dakota’s Bakken Shale. That one exploded in the town of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, killing 47 people.

Dubbed “bomb trains” by many train crews due to their volatility and containment of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), the smoking gun in Casselton was the mushroom cloud ascending after the BNSF train exploded.

With the freight rail industry carrying unprecedented levels of oil to market and rail car explosions happening with greater frequency — led in the forefront by BNSF — it’s an industry with many serious safety questions to answer as we turn the page to 2014.

Obama Patron Warren Buffett Buys Over $500 Million of Suncor Tar Sands Stock

1:01 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

President Obama bestowing the Medal of Freedom on Warren Buffett

Warren Buffett — the fourth richest man on the planet and major campaign contributor to President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 – may soon get a whole lot richer.

That’s because he just bought over half a billion bucks worth of Suncor Energy stock: $524 million in the second quarter of 2013, to be precise, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings. Suncor is a major producer and marketer of tar sands via its wholly owned subsidiary Petro-Canada (formerly Sunoco) and this latest development follows a trend of Buffett enriching himself through dirty investments and deal-making.

So far in 2013, Suncor (formerly Sun Oil Company) has produced 328,000 barrels per day of tar sands crude.

Though he receives far less negative press than the Koch Brothers, Buffett’s no deep green ecologist. Not in the slightest.

Referred to as one of 17 “Climate Killers” by Rolling Stone‘s Tim Dickinson in a January 2010 story, Buffett owns the behemoth holding company, Berkshire Hathway. It’s through Berkshire that he’s making a killing – while simultaneously killing the ecosystem – through one of its most profitable wholly-owned assets: Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF).

Buffett purchased BNSF for $26 billion and was “the largest acquisition of Buffett’s storied career,” Dickinson wrote.

BNSF hauls around frac sand for the controversial horizontal oil and gas drilling process known as “fracking.” The rail company also moves fracked oil from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale basin, tar sands logistical equipment and tar sands crude itself and tons of coal. And not only does Buffett’s BNSF haul around ungodly amounts of coal, he actually owns coal-burning utility companies, too.

“BNSF is the nation’s top hauler of coal, shipping some 300 million tons a year. That’s enough to light up 10 percent of the nation’s homes — many of which are powered by another Berkshire subsidiary, MidAmerican Energy,” Dickinson explained.

Beyond MidAmerican Energy, Buffett also owns the coal-burning PacifiCorp and his BNSF freight trains are largely responsible for the coal export boom unfolding in the northwest corridor of the United States.

“PacifiCorp…owns the most coal plants in the West and recently unveiled a long-term energy plan that did not include a single wind project over the next ten years,” explained a recent blog post written by the Sierra Club. “And Warren Buffett is still involved with one of the biggest coal-burning schemes of all — ongoing plans to export coal…to…Asia.”

“Buffett’s BNSF Railway would be the primary transporter of that coal, and the company has tried to get the coal export terminals approved over the objections of thousands of activists across the Pacific Northwest.”

And as his slam dunk, Buffett also has plans to convert BNSF’s freight trains to utilize fracked shale gas. He then plans to use those same shale gas-powered trains to transport fracked shale oil from North Dakota (5-percent of BNSF’s total shipments and 190,000 cars/week), a win-win for Buffett and a lose-lose for the ecosystem and the climate.

“We have a couple locomotives we’re experimenting with this year on it. The railroads are definitely experimenting with converting to natural gas,” he told CNBC’s Jim Cramer in a March 2013 interview. “[Y]ou’ve got to look at converting any kind of an engine to natural gas.”

‘Tis quite the list of “dirty deeds” by the man coined the “Oracle of Omaha.” And relative to his uber-wealth – to cue up the AC/DC – they’re “done dirt cheap.” Read the rest of this entry →