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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 →

Second US Tar Sands Mine, Owned by Former ExxonMobil and Chevron Exec., Approved in Utah

8:37 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

MCW Enterprises Ltd., a Canada-based corporation, announced on Nov. 19 that it has received all necessary permits to streamline tar sands extraction at its Asphalt Ridge plant located in Vernal, Utah starting in December.

Protest Banner: All Markets Peak, All Pipelines Leak

Tar Sands protest in New Orleans

The announcement comes just weeks after U.S. Oil Sands Company received the first ever green light to extract tar sands south in the United States.

Recently changing its name from MCW Energy, MCW Enterprises Ltd. owns MCW Oil Sands Recovery LLC as a wholly owned subsidiary. The company’s CEO, R. Gerald Bailey – often also referred to as Raymond Bailey or Jerry Bailey - is the former President of Exxon Arabian Gulf and also served as an Executive for Texaco (since purchased by Chevron) for 15 years.

MCW’s website explains that its stake in the Asphalt Ridge is a “proven/probable resource of over 50+ million barrels of oil” and that it “is seeking other oil sands leases in Utah, which contains over 32 billion barrels of oil within 8 major deposits.”

Bailey told Flahrety Financial News that he sees this first project as a crucible, or testing grounds, with the potential for more extraction to come down the road.

“This is really going to be a technology play,” he stated. “I don’t plan to build another Exxon out there in the desert.”

The Frac Sand Connection

In June 2012, Temple Mountain Energy (TME) – also based in Vernal, UT – cut a five-year oil sands supply agreement deal with MCW.

“Under this five year Supply Agreement, Temple Mountain will supply MCW with 8,333 tons of oil sands material per month until the year 2016,” MCW’s website explains.

Once the bitumen is extracted, TME plans on selling the fine-grained sand under which it sits to unconventional oil and gas companies forhydraulic fracturing (“fracking”).

“The recent rapid expansion of shale gas and shale oil drilling…has greatly increased the need for fracking sand in this region,” TME wrote on it website. “Asphalt Ridge is well-positioned to serve this high-volume market—both in terms of geographic location and in terms of sand quality.”

To date, frac sand mining companies have targeted five states - WisconsinMinnesotaTexasArkansas, and Iowa - transforming tens of thousands of acres of land into “Sand Land.” Utah is soon to become number six.

Race for What’s Left: End of “Easy Oil,” Heavy Price to Pay

With domestic unconventional oil and gas wells under-producing, setting the stage for the shale gas bubble to burst, the push to extract tar sands in the United States is a depiction of the oil and gas industry’s reckless push to extract every last drop in a “race for what’s left.”

The age of “easy oil,” to borrow the term from scholar Michael Klare, is over. In a May 2012 interview with FutureMoneyTrends.com, Bailey acknowledged this as well, stating that the “cheap, easy oil is pretty much behind us.”

Bailey defines “cheap” here with regards to the price of extracting the “tough oil” from a production point-of-view.

But as the Alberta tar sands north of the border have shown, it’s the ecosystem and climate that really pays the heaviest price of all. Read the rest of this entry →

LA Times Covers “Sand Land,” Ecological Hazards of Frac Sand Mining in Wisconsin

12:08 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

On Nov. 19, The Los Angeles Times’ Neela Banerjee, writing from Chippewa County, WI, explained what we covered here in June in our “Sand Land” investigation.

The skinny: mining for frac sand creates a whole slew of problems and must be taken into consideration in the “cradle to grave” equation when quantifying the ecological hazards associated with hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for unconventional oil and gas.

“In time, 800 acres of farmland will be mined to feed an energy boom sweeping the United States,” explained Banerjee.

The crystalline silica sand currently being mined from this farm land is blasted into hard rock shale basins during the horizontal drilling process popularly referred to as fracking. This particular fine-grained, circular sand is the perfect shape to break open up pours for shale oil and gas to flow out from under the ground.

“Ground zero for industrial sand mining is western Wisconsin, in counties like Trempealeau, Buffalo and Chippewa,” wrote Banerjee, echoing our findings here on DeSmog. ”At least 60 industrial sand mines are functioning or in the permit process in the area, up from five in 2010…[A] fracked well could use anywhere from 2 million to 5 million pounds of sand.”

The airborne dust eminating from mining for frac sand, a study published by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently demonstrated, can lead to silicosis for miners working on site. Comparatively speaking, “little is known about its effect on people who live near mine sites,” Banerjee explained.

University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire’s Crispin Pierce, a toxicologist and head of the environmental public health, believes a comparison between smoking cigarettes and exposure to secondhand smoke is an apt one to make here.

“These are dangerous substances, but what are the levels you’re exposed to if you live near a sand mine or near a rail line where trains filled with sand pass five times a day?” he rhetorically asked The Times.

A “Hopeless” Future?

Community members aren’t happy with the ever-expanding “land grab” unfolding and some have chosen to speak out.

“People here say this is an issue of property rights, that they can do what they want with their land,” Ken Schmitt, a cattle farmer and anti-mining activist told The Times. “But individual rights end when you start affecting others’ health and welfare.”

Others are completely distraught and feel all hope is lost.

“Fighting this just seems so hopeless,” said an anoymous cranberry farmer. “The companies just have so much money. They can just buy everybody. It seems like nothing can stop them. There’s got to be better ways than this.”

From the frac sand mines; to shale gas basins around the world; from the unmonitored and unregulated pipelines that take that fracked gas and ship it to market; and lastly, to LNG export terminals; the unconventional gas industry is destroying the ecological landscape from cradle to grave.