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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 →

Firm with History of Spill Cover-Ups Hired to Clean Up North Dakota Oil Spill

3:54 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Tesoro Logistics — the company whose pipeline spilled more than 800,000 gallons of fracked Bakken Shale oil in rural North Dakota in September — has hired infamous contractor Witt O’Brien’s to oversee its clean-up of the biggest fracked oil spill in U.S. history.

The oil was obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in the Bakken Shale basin.

As revealed after ExxonMobil hired the same firm in the aftermath of a 210,000-gallon tar sands oil spill in April 2013, Witt O’Brien’s —formerly known as OOPS, Inc. — is a firm with a history of oil spill cover-ups dating back to the Exxon Valdez oil spill. It also oversaw the spraying of toxic oil dispersants into the Gulf of Mexico during BP’s summer 2010 mega-spill and a literal cover-up of Enbridge’s massive “dilbit disaster” tar sands pipeline spill in Michigan.

Witt O’Brien’s also won a $300,000 contract to develop an emergency response plan for TransCanada’s Keystone XL tar sands export pipeline in August 2008.

The same firm is now maintaining Tesoro’s website dedicated to offering updates — also known as crisis communications management — for the massive spill’s recovery efforts at TesoroAlert.com.

Buried at the bottom of the website is a mention that the site is “powered by the PIER System.” PIER — short for “Public Information Emergency Response” — is owned by Witt O’Brien’s.

PIER in a Nutshell

A glance at PIER’s website suggests it is much more focused on image clean-up than it is on actually cleaning up oil spills.

“We believe that responding effectively and communicating your efforts are two sides of the same coin,” explains Witt O’Brien’s website. “And since others will be telling your story, from the professional media to citizen reporters with camera phones, you must be prepared and ready to respond.”

“PIER™ (Public Information Emergency Response) provides flexible solutions for handling internal and external communications, making it easier to deliver messages, streamline processes, automate tasks, and prevent inaccuracy during routine events, minor incidents, and major catastrophes.”

Brad Johnson, at the time a writer for Think Progress, explained BP used PIER for “media and public information management” during the 2010 Gulf oil spill disaster.

Winter Whitewash in the Works?

In a November 1 DeSmogBlog article covering the North Dakota fracked oil spill, Kris Roberts, environmental response team leader for the North Dakota Department of Health’s Division of Water Quality, said his department would be “putting [the oil] to bed for the winter” in an interview.

“We’ll continue to recover any free oil, but essentially because winter is days away if not already there, they’re basically just putting it back to bed, ensuring it’s properly contained and monitored,” Roberts said.

“They will hopefully get some natural remediation over the winter below the frost zone when the indigenous bacteria start flourishing, that’ll probably help a little bit cleaning up. But for the most part, everything is pretty much on hold and active remediation is going to be on hold until next spring.”

In the midwest, winter has arrived. The question remains: will the massive amount of snow allow for a literal and figurative whitewash by Tesoro — working with Witt O’Brien’s — of the largest fracked oil spill in U.S. history?

Federal Pipeline Regulatory Agency Re-Opens Line Causing Biggest Fracked Oil Spill in US History

6:49 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

ND 1914 Tioga

Tioga, ND 1914

A month after over 865,200 gallons of oil spilled from Tesoro Logistics’ 6-inch pipeline near Tioga, North Dakota, the cause of the leak is still largely unknown to anyone but Tesoro. The pipeline resumed operations today.

Carrying oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), the controversial horizontal drilling method used to capture oil and gas found embedded in shale rock basins worldwide, the Bakken Shale pipeline spill on September 29 was the largest fracked oil spill in U.S. history. Oil spill experts say the spill may be even bigger than originally estimated.

Yet few details of what caused the spill – and how to prevent it from happening again – have arisen in the month since it occurred.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) believes a lightning strike may have created the quarter inch hole in the pipeline, leading to the spill.

PHMSA says it will carry out a rigorous investigation into the cause of the spill, but allowed the restart after Tesoro agreed to the agency’s safety ordermandating aerial monitoring of the pipeline over the next three days during the restart and then weekly for the next year, along with 20 other things.

The safety order also mandates Tesoro provide a documented updated within six months indicating how it enhanced its control room monitoring, instructs Tesoro to finish the final mechanical and metallurgical testing report of the failed pipe within 30 days and dictates that within “90 days complet[ion of] a root cause failure analysis for the Line that contains a detailed timeline of events.”

Documents obtained by Greenpeace USA under North Dakota’s Open Records Statute show the oil has settled over 12 feet below the ground layer of the soil. The oil that settled on the surface was burned off.

“At 10-12 feet below surface, there is a extensive clay layer that underlies the entire hill top,” Kris Roberts, Environmental Response Team Leader for the North Department of Health’s Division of Water Quality, explained in an October 3 field report.

“Putting it to Bed for the Winter”

In an interview with DeSmogBlog, Roberts said studies to test the impacts of the massive amounts of oil on the area’s soil are forthcoming.

“There will be a lot of testing done after the process of cleaning it up,” he said. “For now, it’s kind of a moot point when you’ve got product moving through the soil, it’s kind of screwed up. So, there will be sampling that happens as we work toward different options toward remediating the contamination.”

Rather than rush to clean up the soil now, though, the North Dakota Department of Health plans on “putting it to bed for the winter” and finishing up in the spring, Roberts said.

“We’ll continue to recover any free oil, but essentially because winter is days away if not already there, they’re basically just putting it back to bed, ensuring it’s properly contained and monitored,” he said.

“They will hopefully get some natural remediation over the winter below the frost zone when the indigenous bacteria start flourishing, that’ll probably help a little bit cleaning up. But for the most part, everything is pretty much on hold and active remediation is going to be on hold until next spring.”
Read the rest of this entry →