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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?

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Silent Coup: How Enbridge is Quietly Cloning the Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline

10:48 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog 

A Canadian flag dripping with oil

Despite activist opposition, “pipeline giant Enbridge has quietly cloned its own Keystone XL in the U.S and Canada.”

While the debate over the TransCanada Keystone XL tar sands pipeline has raged on for over half a decade, pipeline giant Enbridge has quietly cloned its own Keystone XL in the U.S and Canada.

It comes in the form of the combination of Enbridge’s Alberta Clipper (Line 67), Flanagan South and Seaway Twin pipelines.

The pipeline system does what Keystone XL and the Keystone Pipeline System at large is designed to do: ship hundreds of thousands of barrels per day of Alberta’s tar sands diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) to both Gulf Coast refineries in Port Arthur, Texas, and the global export market.

Alberta Clipper and Line 67 expansion

Alberta Clipper was approved by President Barack Obama and the U.S. State Department (legally required because it is a border-crossing pipeline like KeystoneXL) in August 2009 during congressional recess. Clipper runs from Alberta to Superior, Wis.

Initially slated to carry 450,000 barrels per day of dilbit to market, Enbridge now seeks an expansion permit from the State Department to carry up to 570,000 barrels per day, with a designed capacity of 800,000 barrels per day. It has dubbed the expansion Line 67.

As reported on previously by DeSmogBlog, Line 67 is the key connecter pipeline to Line 6A, which feeds into the BP Whiting refinery located near Chicago, Ill., in Whiting, Ind. BP Whiting — the largest in-land refinery in the U.S. — was recently retooled to refine larger amounts of tar sands under the Whiting Refinery Modernization Project. 

Line 67 also connects to Line 61 via a fork in the road of sorts in Wisconsin. From there, it heads to Flanagan, Ill., the namesake of the start of Enbridge’s Flanagan South pipeline.

Like Keystone XL, Enbridge’s Line 67 expansion project has faced unexpected delays in its State Department and Obama Administration review process.

Flanagan South also shares a key legal commonality with TransCanada’s Keystone pipeline system.

That is, like Phase II and Phase III of that system — best known to the general public as Keystone XL’s southern leg and to TransCanada as the Gulf Coast Pipeline Project — it was permitted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers using the controversial Nationwide Permit 12 (NWP 12) process.

As documented here on DeSmogBlog, the southern leg of Keystone XL and Flanagan South both played a central role in separate but related precedent-setting federal-level court cases.

In reviewing the legality of approval via NWP 12 through the lens of “harms,” the courts ruled in both cases that the harms of losing corporate profits for both Enbridge and TransCanada trump the potential harms of ecological damage the pipelines could cause in the future. Climate change went undiscussed in both rulings.

According to a May 2014 company newsletter, Enbridge is “on schedule to put [Flanagan South] in operation later this year.”

“After eight months of construction, we are now in the home stretch for the nearly 600-mile pipeline project,” touts the newsletter. “At the peak of construction, between October 2013 and January 2014, there were on average 3,650 construction workers over the entire route — about 1,600 of those workers from communities located along the pipeline route.”

Seaway Pipeline

In a June 16 article titled, “Blame Canada,” Reuters pointed to two new “pipes set to hit U.S. Gulf with heavy crude,” which — as it pertains to Canada — is industry vernacular for tar sands.

Flanagan South was one of the pipelines pointed to in the Reuters piece.

The other is Enbridge’s Seaway Twin pipeline, co-owned on a 50/50 joint venture basis with Enterprise Products Partners. Seaway Twin, like Keystone XL’s southern leg, runs from Cushing, Okla., to Port Arthur, Texas.

Enbridge scheduled Line 67 to go on-line in mid-2014 and reach full-capacity by mid-2015.

But, because of backlash against the proposal from environmentalists and citizens who live along the pipeline expansion’s route, the company does not expect to receive a State Department expansion permit until mid-2015.

Flanagan South Pipeline

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Interview: “Big Men” Director Rachel Boynton on Oil, Ghana and Capitalism

4:17 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

 

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

The subtitle of the newly released documentary film Big Men is “everyone wants to be big” and to say the film covers a “big” topic is to put it mildly.

Poster for Big Men shows a giant suited man holding a oil derrick

“Everyone wants to be big …”

Executive produced by Brad Pitt and directed by Rachel Boynton, the film cuts to the heart of how the oil and gas industry works and pushes film-watchers to think about why that’s the case. Ghana’s burgeoning offshore fields — in particular, the Jubilee Field discovered in 2007 by Kosmos Energy — serve as the film’s case study.

Boynton worked on the film for more than half a decade, beginning the project in 2006 and completing it in 2013. During that time, the Canadian tar sands exploded, as did the U.S. hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) boom — meanwhile, halfway around the world, Ghana was having an offshore oil boom of its own.

Kosmos Energy (KOS), previously a privately held company, led the way. Adding intrigue to the film, Kosmos went public while Boynton was shooting. Kosmos didn’t do it alone, though: the start-up capital to develop the Jubilee Field came from private equity firm goliaths Blackstone Group and Warburg Pincus, a major part of the documentary.

What makes Big Men stand above the rest is the access Boynton got to tell the story. Allowed into Kosmos’ board room, the office of Blackstone Group, encampments of Nigerian militants and the office of the President of Ghana, the film has a surreal quality to it.

Now screening in Dallas, New York City and Portland, the film will soon open in theaters in Chicago, Seattle and Los Angeles.

After seeing the film at Madison’s Wisconsin Film Festival, I reached out to Boynton to talk to her about Big Men, what it had in common with her previous film (one of my favorites) Our Brand is Crisis and what other documentary projects she has on the go.

Steve Horn: I’ve seen your first film, Our Brand is Crisis, and there seems to be a continuity in a way between Our Brand and Big Men because Bolivian ex-president “Goni” (Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada) was chased out of Bolivia eventually because he attempted to privatize Bolivia’s gas and was basically in office to begin with because people from the outside came in and helped place him there (U.S. Democratic Party political consultants and electioneers) to begin with.

One could see a similarity between the PR efforts led by those electioneers, which serves as the premise of Our Brand, and a western oil company like Kosmos coming into Ghana to bring offshore oil and gas drilling to the country.

Did what eventually happened in Bolivia with their gas market — because these U.S. consultants came in and helped get “Goni” elected —move you to start thinking about energy (oil, gas, etc.) as a documentary film topic?

Rachel Boynton: No, not at all. In that sense they’re totally unrelated. The origin of both projects is completely unrelated.

I finished Our Brand is Crisis in 2005 and it had its theatrical run in 2006 and so back in 2005 I started thinking about what I wanted to do next and at the time, oil prices were going through the roof and everyone was freaking out about peak oil.

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Tar Sands’ Next Frontier: Shipments on the Great Lakes

2:38 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

The Great Lakes, drinking water source for over 40 million North Americans, could be the next target on tar sands marketers’ bullseye according to a major new report out by the Chicago-based Alliance for the Great Lakes.

The 24-page report, “Oil and Water: Tar Sands Crude Shipping Meets the Great Lakes?“ unpacks a new looming threat to the Great Lakes in the form of barges transporting tar sands along the Great Lakes to targeted midwestern refinery markets. As the report suggests, it’s a threat made worse by an accompanying “Wild West”-like regulatory framework.

“The prospect of tar sands shipping on the Great Lakes gives rise to fundamental social and economic questions about whether moving crude oil by vessel across the world’s single largest surface freshwater system is a venture this region wants to embrace, despite the known risks,” the report says early on.

Calumet Specialty Products Partners LP is one of the major corporations hedging its bets on moving tar sands along the Great Lakes — and oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale basin — and may begin doing so as early as 2015.

“[I]ndustry observers and consultants speculate this crude could travel from Wisconsin across Lake Superior to Lake Michigan, and on to refineries in Whiting, Ind., Lemont, Ill., and possibly Detroit, Mich. near Lake Erie,” the report details. “Other potential destinations include Sarnia, Ontario on Lake Huron, or even an East Coast refinery.”

As a recent GasBuddy.com article explained, BP’s Whiting, Indiana refinery - capable of refining far more tar sands crude with its Modernization Project - will soon open for business.

“Sources say that BP’s modernization of the company’s 405,000-b/d Whiting, Ind., refinery is on schedule with all units now operating,” the article explained. “That includes a brand new 105,000-b/d coker that will eventually allow the plant to use about four times as much heavy sour Canadian crude compared with it had used previously.”

Market Glut a Market Opportunity for Great Lakes Shippers

Midwest tar sands pipelines abound, such as Enbridge’s Alberta Clipper/Line 67 pipeline, the original Transcanada Keystone pipeline and the forthcoming Enbridge Flanagan South pipeline, but with nearly two dozen tar sands refineries located in the region, pipelines serve as only one way to get the product to market.

“Even today, there is more tar sands crude being extracted from Alberta, Canada than current transportation channels can bring to market,” reads the report. “About 70 percent of these extracted tar sands are sent to refineries in the American Midwest and approximately 99 percent stay in the U.S.”

New Threat Looming?

Still early in the game, Calumet’s fast-paced maneuvering to ship 35,000 barrels of tar sands per day along Lake Superior has sparked opposition from close observers.

“[A]s tar sands crude spill cleanups have proved particularly problematic, a cleanup of a deep-water tar sands crude spill in the Great Lakes would present new and extraordinary challenges,” the report posits. ”With the amount of tar sands crude shipped on the Great Lakes by vessel poised to expand as early as 2015, the Great Lakes will soon face a new threat that poses a substantial risk to their future.”

As recent massive tar sands spills into Mayflower, Arksansas’ Lake Conway and Michigan’s Kalamazoo River have demonstrated, once tar sands spill into major waterways, comprehensive cleanup becomes virtually impossible.

It remains to be seen whether policymakers will learn from these past spills, or will just brush them aside in the race to send massive amounts of tar sands crude to midwest markets.

“We’re at a crossroads now, with companies starting to seek permits for new oil terminals,” Lyman Welch, Director of the Alliance for Great Lakes’ Water Quality Program and the report’s lead author said in a press release. “Before our region starts sinking money into shipping terminals for the Great Lakes, our task should be to ask ‘if’ rather than ‘when.’”

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.