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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 →

Tar Sands South: First US Tar Sands Mine Approved in Utah

9:46 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

We are more than oil protest sign

Photo: Claytonn Conn / Tarsandsaction / Flickr

The race is on for the up-and-coming U.S. tar sands industry. To date, the tar sands industry is most well-known for the havoc it continues to wreak in Alberta, Canada - but its neighbor and fellow petrostate to the south may soon join in on the fun.

On Oct. 24, the Utah Water Quality Board (UWQB) approved the first ever tar sands mine on U.S. soil, handing a permit to U.S. Oil Sands, a company whose headquarters are based in Alberta, despite it’s name.

In a 9-2 vote, the UWQB gave U.S. Oil Sands the green light to begin extracting bitumen from its PR Spring Oil Sands Project, located in the Uinta Basin in eastern Utah. The UWQB concluded that there’s no risk of groundwater pollution from tar sands extraction for the prospective mining project.

Members of the public were allowed to attend the hearing but “were not permitted to provide input,” according to The Salt Lake Tribune.

“The PR Spring project remains on track for commercial startup late in 2013, and the decision ultimately illustrates the merits that our responsible approach to oil sands development has for the environment and local communities,” Cameron Todd, CEO of U.S. Oil Sands stated in a press release in response to the decision.

Living Rivers, the Moab, Utah-based offshoot of Colorado Riverkeeper says it will likely appeal the decision to the state’s court system, ”arguing that tar sands mining will contaminate groundwater in a largely undeveloped area of Utah’s Book Cliffs region that drains into the Colorado River,” explained the Associated Press.

In an Oct. 9 interview on Democracy Now!, John Weisheit, Conservation Director of Living Rivers said the harms associated with looming tar sands extraction in the Uinta Basin aren’t merely limited to groundwater contimination. Rather, the entire surrounding ecosystem would be endangered. He told Amy Goodman:

Well, we’re concerned because this particular locality is in a high-elevation place called the Tavaputs Plateau, and it’s one of the last wild places in Utah. It’s a huge refuge for elk and deer. It’s also a beautiful watershed. It not only would affect the Colorado River, but it also—at this particular site, it’s at the top of the drainage, so it would also affect the White River and the Green River.

The PR Spring mining site is 5,930 contiguous acres with a “land position totalling 32,005 acres of bitumen extraction rights on leases in the State of Utah,” according to U.S. Oil Sands’ financial statement for the first half of 2012. AP explained that U.S. Oil Sands plans to extract 2,000 barrels of tar sands crude in Utah in 2012, “in the start of what could grow into a much larger operation.”

Two main grassroots activist groups are currently battling Utah’s upstart tar sands industry: Utah Tar Sands Resistance and Before It Starts. “The Utah Water Quality Board is an entirely inappropriate authority for determining the safety of both water safety and water availability for the 30 million people who depend on the Colorado RIver, most of which do not live in Utah,” Kate Finneran, Co-Director of Before It Starts told DeSmogBlog in an interview.

Though Living Rivers will appeal the decision, U.S. Oil Sands isn’t wasting any time in forging ahead, and according to the AP is already “looking to take on a partner, ordering equipment, hiring Utah contractors and preparing the site” for extraction.

5,900+ acres is a drop in the bucket for an industry sitting on some 232,065 acres of land open for tar sands extraction in the state of Utah, according to a Sept. 2012 story by Inside Climate News.

The U.S. tar sands are deemed a “strategically important domestic resource that should be developed to reduce the growing dependence of the United States on politically and economically unstable sources of foreign oil imports” in Sec. 369 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

Most well-known for the “Halliburton Loophole,” the Energy Policy Act of 2005 exempts oil and gas corporations from complying with the dictates of the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act, making the chemicals injected into the ground (and into groundwater) while hydraulic fractruing (“fracking”) for unconventional gas a “trade secret.” The law was written with the helping hand of oil and gas executives via then Vice President Dick Cheney’s Energy Task Force in 2001.

By legal mandate, it appears, the race to extract bitumen from “Tar Sands South” has just begun. It’s a race that, like the one being run by its Canadian neighbor to the north, can’t possibly end well for the ecosystem, public health, water quality and the global climate.