Friday, March 22, 2013
From our friends at WNYC's Money Talking.
For years, politicians have called for the nation to end its dependence on foreign oil. That time could be fast approaching.
This week, the Energy Information Administration forecast that the U.S. is expected to produce more oil than it imports for the first time since 1995. Most of the increase will come from shale fields in North Dakota and Texas.
This week on Money Talking, regular contributors Rana Foroohar ofTime magazine and Joe Nocera of the New York Times join WNYC's Business Editor Charlie Herman to assess just how the nation is becoming more energy independent and what it means for the economy. Also, with the U.S. consuming less foreign oil and other countries like China picking up the slack, how will that change global alliances.
Friday, March 22, 2013
Politicians for years have been calling for the U.S. to end its dependence on foreign oil. Well, that time could be fast approaching. Now what?
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
(Helena, MT – YPR) – The Montana Senate Natural Resources Committee plans to vote Friday on a bill that would exempt oversize loads from having to undergo a review under the Montana Environmental Policy Act (MEPA).
House Bill 513’s sponsor is Representative Bill McChesney (D-Miles City). He says the measure makes it crystal clear that the Montana Legislature “never intended for routine permits for oversize loads be forced to undergo the same scrutiny for environmental impacts that a new highway, a new coal mine or an oil refinery would be subjected to.”
The issue reached a flashpoint about two years ago when protesters sued to block several megaloads. At that time ImperialOil/ExxonMobil wanted to move oversize loads of equipment bound for the Oil Tar Sand fields in Alberta, Canada. Protesters also tried to stop oversize loads of coker drums traveling through Missoula to Billings.
“Prior to this particular incident in Missoula, the Montana Department of Transportation permitting process was always clearly designed and implemented to ensure the public notice and public safety were given substantial consideration without needless requirements or restrictions on the permitees,” says McChesney.
In order to haul an oversize load through Montana, companies need to obtain a 32-J permit. The current application contains an environmental checklist.
Opponents of HB 513 say because these megaloads could pose a threat to public safety, the environment, and cultural resources, a MEPA review may be appropriate. They add these projects should be subject to the MEPA process that expand the public’s right to know and the right of the public to participate in government decisions on such matters.
“If HB 513 passes, these monstrous, three-story, 200-foot long and 500,000-600,000 pound, made in Korea (loads) will be exempt from review for public safety, local highway infrastructure, cultural resources, the economy, and the environment,” says Montana Sierra Club's Claudia Narcisco.
Not true, says McChesney, a retired MDT employee who worked with oversize loads and the 32-J permits. He says before such permits are issued, MDT reviews the route, load size, and that public input is always welcome. He argues a MEPA review for the 32-J permit is redundant. “There’s no justifiable reason for this superfluous barrier to the commerce and the accompanying perception that Montana is a difficult place to do business.”
HB 513 was sent to the Montana Senate on a 72-26 vote.
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
International energy expert Daniel Yergin looks at the oil industry in Iraq ten years after the U.S.-led invasion. He is the author of The Quest: Energy, Security & the Remaking of the Modern World.
Tuesday, March 12, 2013
(Helena, MT-YPR) – There's no relief in sight to remedy the long waits for prospective semi truck drivers to get their Commercial Driver’s License (CDL).
Montana legislators, for now, are not funding a request by the Montana Motor Vehicle Department to retain four full-time equivalent (FTE) CDL examiners. The inaction comes despite acknowledgement by members of the Montana House Appropriations Committee that there’s up to a 60 day waiting period to take the CDL exam.
“I find it unacceptable that we got a 60-day waiting list to put people to work so they can start paying their taxes,” says House Appropriations Chairman Duane Ankney (R-Colstrip). He adds this is not the fault of the MVD.
The reason for the shortage of semi-drivers is multifaceted, but it is exacerbated by the boom in the Bakken oil field in Eastern Montana and Western North Dakota. That has led to more people seeking training to drive the big rigs and the need for a CDL.
Ankney asks if the local community colleges can offer that training and testing.
MVD Administrator Brenda Nordlund says current state law prohibit third-party testing. “That happens in other states, but there are some risks,” she says. “Fraud, particularly when there is a large demand and scarcity of resource.”
Currently MVD has five people, some part-time, temporarily spread across Montana to conduct CDL exams. The money for those positions runs out June 30, 2013.
Initially the House Appropriations Committee tried to fund those positions with money from a consumer protection account. A legal opinion advised them against that action.
The Republican-controlled House Appropriations Committee passed the state’s main budget bill without funding the temporary CDL positions. The bill can still be amended on the House Floor or in the state Senate.
Wednesday, March 06, 2013
By Daniel P. Tucker : Associate Producer, WNYC News
A program that provides home heating oil for low-income New Yorkers is safe for now despite the death of one of its chief backers — former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
Monday, February 25, 2013
By Daniel P. Tucker : Associate Producer, WNYC News
For 12 days after Sandy slammed into the Mid-Atlantic coast on October 29, Tim Arata sat in the dark at his family-owned gas station in suburban Ridgefield Park, New Jersey, waiting for the lights to come back on.
Thursday, February 21, 2013
(Matt Bush, Washington, D.C. - WAMU) Maryland Senate President Mike Miller wants to impose a sales tax on gasoline, as well as allow counties that rely on mass transit, like Montgomery and Prince George's, the ability to raise the state gas tax up to 5 cents per gallon in their areas.
It will take a lot of heavy lifting to get it passed in Annapolis, something the long-time president of the Senate knows as well as anyone.
One way Miller is looking to secure votes is by pushing something he himself does not like — a so-called "lockbox" on transportation funding. Critics have long argued that lawmakers end up spending money raised by transportation taxes on other things.
"I personally don't care for this proposal, but to ease the minds of those that think this is a piggyback for some future executive to rob from, I think this might alleviate their concerns," he says.
The biggest fight, however, will come from legislators who feel motorists will be paying higher taxes that will go to mass transit, as those lawmakers feel that more of that money should instead go toward roads.
Meanwhile, across the border, Virginia politicians are negotiating a transportation funding deal that would lower the gas tax and increase the sales tax.
Follow Matt Bush on Twitter.
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
By Robert Krulwich : Host, Radiolab
If you are up in space looking down on America west of the Mississippi, one of the brightest patches of light at night is on the Great Plains in North Dakota. It's not a city, not a town, not a military installation. What is it?
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
At Transportation Nation, we serve up serious news, with flair, style, and a flash of java.
Rejoice. (And get a tax deduction, too.) You can own a Transportation Nation coffee mug.
'What's so exciting about a coffee mug?' you might ask. 'It doesn't run on a smart grid or move at the speed of a bullet train." But, friends, it is a reminder to you of all the value this site has brought you in 2012. And your donation shows our reporters here at TN that you care.
Plus, the video is hilarious. We present to you the multi-modal mug. Yours as a thank-you gift for a donation of $5 / month to our ad-free, nonprofit public media project.
If you won't donate, consider sending this around to your friends who might.
Monday, December 17, 2012
By Robert Krulwich : Host, Radiolab
We start with a pool of oil. We turn on a magnet. The oil travels up a superstructure and blossoms into a tree. Turn off the magnet, the branches, the needles, the tree melt away. It's a puddle again.
Friday, November 02, 2012
By Kate Hinds
To ease widespread gas shortages in the Northeast, the federal government has temporarily lifted a restriction on foreign fuel tankers.
The Jones Act (pdf) -- formerly known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 -- was originally intended to ensure that the U.S. has a strong merchant marine during times of war. It also prohibits foreign ships from touching two U.S. ports consecutively -- meaning all goods that move between two domestic ports must do so on ships that are U.S. flagged and staffed.
The waiver means tankers that would otherwise be barred can immediately begin shipping petroleum products from the Gulf of Mexico to the Northeast.
According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, "it is either essential for national security or a vast barnacle on the hull of U.S. growth, depending on your point of view." Bob Parrish, the president of the Maritime Law Association of the United States, told TN the Jones Act is "really a deep subject that's been debated."
At a press conference Friday morning, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the waiver was necessary to speed delivery of fuel to area ports. Soon after, the Department of Homeland Security released a statement that read, in part: "As a result of impacts caused by Hurricane Sandy, today Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano issued a temporary, blanket waiver of the Jones Act to immediately allow additional oil tankers coming from the Gulf of Mexico to enter Northeastern ports, to provide additional fuel resources to the region...Secretary Napolitano's action immediately allows additional ships, that would otherwise be barred, to begin shipping petroleum products from the Gulf of Mexico to Northeastern ports, increasing the access to fuel in the storm damaged region."
Also on Friday, Cuomo signed an executive order allowing distributors and transporters to bring gasoline, diesel, and kerosene into New York without having to meet the usual registration requirements. "I don’t like to waive the tax, I don’t want to lose the money," he said, "but we do want to accelerate the flow of gasoline."
The waiver of the Jones Act lasts through November 13.
Tuesday, October 09, 2012
As part of the Brian Lehrer Show's 30 Issues in 30 Days series, the WNYC Data News team is designing interactive visualizations, tools and graphics to illuminate the data behind the issues. Join the full conversation on the current state of environmental and energy policy here.
Tuesday, September 11, 2012
By Kate Hinds
Researchers in California have translated air pollution into futuristic soundscapes.
The website Atlantic Cities reports that scientists at University of California-Berkeley collected air samples from different locations across the state, then assigned tones to the different chemicals they found.
The authors write: "You can actually hear the difference between the toxic air of a truck tunnel (clogged with diesel hydrocarbons and carcinogenic particulate matter) and the fragrant air of the High Sierras."
Give it a listen.
According to the researchers, Bakersfield -- a town situated in California's Central Valley -- sounds a lot like Oakland's Caldecott Tunnel. This is "the result of fresh hydrocarbons from a main trucking highway and oil and gas fields surrounding the sampling site."
Despite decades of progress, Southern Californians are among those at highest risk of death due to air pollution. The American Lung Association gives failing grades to more than half of California's counties.
Read more over at Atlantic Cities.
Thursday, September 06, 2012
(Billings, MT – YPR) – Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) officials say the railroad is keeping pace with the rapid growth caused by the Bakken Formation, the largest oil field in the lower 48 states.
The lack of pipeline capacity has led oil producers to turn to rail and semi trucks to bring crude from fields in western North Dakota and eastern Montana to market.
BNSF recently announced it has increased capacity to haul one million barrels of crude per day out of the region, known as the Williston Basin.
“Yeah, it’s fun isn’t it,” says Denis Smith, BNSF Vice President of Marketing of Industrial Products. "Three years ago there was one facility that could load a crude petroleum train up there. Now we’re going to have 10 by the end of the year and a dozen by next year. " These terminals load oil onto 100 car trains.
He says customers have spent about $1 billion on these loading facilities, rail cars, and other infrastructure. In turn, Smith says the railroad has had to make sure it had the capacity to move those trains to market.
“It’s about a dozen trains,” Smith says. “And it is impressive, but if you put it in light of something like our coal business where we haul 50-plus trains a day, we’re capable of doing it.”
According to a BNSF press release, the railroad’s network reaches all major coastal and inland markets and directly serves 30 percent of US refineries in 14 states through direct and interline service. The company has 1,000 miles of rail line in the Williston Basin area, serving eight originating terminals. BNSF also connects to 16 of the top 19 oil producing counties in central and western North Dakota and five of the six oil producing counties in eastern Montana.
The railroad recently announced it spent $197 million on projects in North Dakota and Montana. The company also hired more than 560 new employees across its service area.
Smith anticipates BNSF will continue to be a key transporter of Bakken/Williston Basin crude even if the proposed Keystone XL pipeline is constructed from Canada to the US Gulf Coast. The pipeline is primarily to transport Canadian tar sands crude to the US for refining, but on-ramps are planned in Montana to also transport Bakken crude.
“We go to the Texas/Louisiana gulf but some of the other markets are better markets for producers up there [ND/MT],” Smith says. As an example, he says rail can deliver crude directly to markets in Philadelphia, Chicago, Florida, and the Pacific Northwest. “That’s the beauty and the surprise I think to the producers,” he says. “The reach that we have in terms of getting them to markets that give them the best buck for their oil.”
Tuesday, August 28, 2012
The White House issued the requirements for automakers' fleets at a heated political moment: Republicans are gathering for their national convention along the oil-rig-speckled Gulf Coast, (full coverage here) and just days ago Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney issued his energy plan that NPR said, "doubles down on fossil fuels" in stark contrast to President Obama.
More pointedly though, this requirement to nearly double the existing fuel economy of small autos comes as a hurricane bears down on New Orleans. Gas prices spiked $1-a-gallon after Katrina struck seven years ago. So it's no coincidence that President Obama's statements today touted future cost savings at the pump and energy independence from higher average fuel efficiency.
“These fuel standards represent the single most important step we’ve ever taken to reduce our dependence on foreign oil,” said President Obama in the statement posted below. “This historic agreement builds on the progress we’ve already made to save families money at the pump and cut our oil consumption."
Here's the full press release from the White House, and below that an additional statement from the Department of Transportation.
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 28, 2012
Obama Administration Finalizes Historic 54.5 mpg Fuel Efficiency Standards
Consumer Savings Comparable to Lowering Price of Gasoline by $1 Per Gallon by 2025
WASHINGTON, DC – The Obama Administration today finalized groundbreaking standards that will increase fuel economy to the equivalent of 54.5 mpg for cars and light-duty trucks by Model Year 2025. When combined with previous standards set by this Administration, this move will nearly double the fuel efficiency of those vehicles compared to new vehicles currently on our roads. In total, the Administration’s national program to improve fuel economy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions will save consumers more than $1.7 trillion at the gas pump and reduce U.S. oil consumption by 12 billion barrels.
“These fuel standards represent the single most important step we’ve ever taken to reduce our dependence on foreign oil,” said President Obama. “This historic agreement builds on the progress we’ve already made to save families money at the pump and cut our oil consumption. By the middle of the next decade our cars will get nearly 55 miles per gallon, almost double what they get today. It’ll strengthen our nation's energy security, it's good for middle class families and it will help create an economy built to last.”
The historic standards issued today by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) build on the success of the Administration’s standards for cars and light trucks for Model Years 2011-2016. Those standards, which raised average fuel efficiency by 2016 to the equivalent of 35.5 mpg, are already saving families money at the pump.
Achieving the new fuel efficiency standards will encourage innovation and investment in advanced technologies that increase our economic competitiveness and support high-quality domestic jobs in the auto industry. The final standards were developed by DOT’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and EPA following extensive engagement with automakers, the United Auto Workers, consumer groups, environmental and energy experts, states, and the public. Last year, 13 major automakers, which together account for more than 90 percent of all vehicles sold in the United States, announced their support for the new standards. By aligning Federal and state requirements and providing manufacturers with long-term regulatory certainty and compliance flexibility, the standards encourage investments in clean, innovative technologies that will benefit families, promote U.S. leadership in the automotive sector, and curb pollution.
“Simply put, this groundbreaking program will result in vehicles that use less gas, travel farther, and provide more efficiency for consumers than ever before—all while protecting the air we breathe and giving automakers the regulatory certainty to build the cars of the future here in America,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “Today, automakers are seeing their more fuel-efficient vehicles climb in sales, while families already saving money under the Administration’s first fuel economy efforts will save even more in the future, making this announcement a victory for everyone.”
“The fuel efficiency standards the administration finalized today are another example of how we protect the environment and strengthen the economy at the same time,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “Innovation and economic growth are already reinvigorating the auto industry and the thousands of businesses that supply automakers as they create and produce the efficient vehicles of tomorrow. Clean, efficient vehicles are also cutting pollution and saving drivers money at the pump."
The Administration’s combined efforts represent the first meaningful update to fuel efficiency standards in decades. Together, they will save American families more than $1.7 trillion dollars in fuel costs, resulting in an average fuel savings of more than $8,000 by 2025 over the lifetime of the vehicle. For families purchasing a model Year 2025 vehicle, the net savings will be comparable to lowering the price of gasoline by approximately $1 per gallon. Additionally, these programs will dramatically reduce our reliance on foreign oil, saving a total of 12 billion barrels of oil and reducing oil consumption by more than 2 million barrels a day by 2025 – as much as half of the oil we import from OPEC each day.
The standards also represent historic progress to reduce carbon pollution and address climate change. Combined, the Administration’s standards will cut greenhouse gas emissions from cars and light trucks in half by 2025, reducing emissions by 6 billion metric tons over the life of the program – more than the total amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the United States in 2010.
President Obama announced the proposed standard in July 2011, joined by Ford, GM, Chrysler, BMW, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar/Land Rover, Kia, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Toyota, and Volvo, as well as the United Auto Workers. The State of California and other key stakeholders also supported the announcement and were integral in developing this national program.
In achieving these new standards, EPA and NHTSA expect automakers’ to use a range of efficient and advanced technologies to transform the vehicle fleet. The standards issued today provide for a mid-term evaluation to allow the agencies to review their effectiveness and make any needed adjustments.
Major auto manufacturers are already developing advanced technologies that can significantly reduce fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions beyond the existing model year 2012-2016 standards. In addition, a wide range of technologies are currently available for automakers to meet the new standards, including advanced gasoline engines and transmissions, vehicle weight reduction, lower tire rolling resistance, improvements in aerodynamics, diesel engines, more efficient accessories, and improvements in air conditioning systems. The program also includes targeted incentives to encourage early adoption and introduction into the marketplace of advanced technologies to dramatically improve vehicle performance, including:
- Incentives for electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, and fuel cells vehicles;
- Incentives for hybrid technologies for large pickups and for other technologies that achieve high fuel economy levels on large pickups;
- Incentives for natural gas vehicles;
- Credits for technologies with potential to achieve real-world greenhouse gas reductions and fuel economy improvements that are not captured by the standards test procedures.
And from the DOT:
This is a monumental day for the American people, the U.S. auto industry and the Obama Administration’s efforts to make our cars more efficient. Today, DOT and the Environmental Protection Agency are finalizing national standards for fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions for passenger cars and light trucks built in the years 2017 through 2025.
Thanks to their work, the car or light truck you'll be driving in 2025 will not be your grandfather's Oldsmobile. The Administration’s combined fuel economy efforts represent the first meaningful update to fuel efficiency standards in decades. By 2025, the average car will achieve a fuel economy performance equivalent to 54.5 miles per gallon, nearly double that of cars on the road today.
You can read more about these historic fuel efficiency standards on my Fast Lane blog.
Thursday, August 23, 2012
By Julie Caine
A Chevron’s refinery in Richmond, California burst into flames earlier this month. Reportedly, workers discovered that an old pipe, potentially in operation since the 1970s, was leaking. After about two hours, they removed the insulation unit while the pipe was still processing crude, causing the explosion. Five workers were treated for minor injuries, but the Chemical Safety Board has called the accident a “near disaster” for refinery personnel. A "shelter in place" warning was issued for the community because of potential toxins in the air. And more than 11,000 residents went to the emergency room complaining of health problems.
Investigations into the cause of the fire are ongoing. But, inspectors need access to the site of the explosion, which is still considered too dangerous. Robert Rogers, the Richmond reporter for the Bay Area News Group, has been following the story. He spoke with KALW’s Holly Kernan about the fallout of the fire.
Monday, August 20, 2012
The number of oil and gas drilling sites is rapidly growing with the proliferation of hydraulic fracturing, commonly called fracking. Each new well brings new fears to neighbors who After a rise in breast cancer rates in one area attracted national attention in Texas, the state will now investigate the potential health effects of living near drilling sites.
The investigative reporting unit StateImpact, says previous limited studies have found no health risks in Texas, though studies in Utah and Colorado have pinned ill-health and smog on drilling. Dave Fehling spoke with Texas officials about the potential study.
Read the full story at StateImpact.
Thursday, August 16, 2012
(Billings, Montana – YPR) – MontanaFair, the region’s largest fair, celebrates the state’s agricultural tradition with people competing to win the purple Best of Show ribbon for wool, pigs, and apple pie. But this year, MontanaFair is also celebrating the importance of the region’s energy industry – oil, gas and coal.
Eastern Montana and Western North Dakota are home to one of the country’s most active oil fields, the Bakken.
The energy exhibits are being held in a building between the mechanical bull ride and the Montana State University Extension Service agricultural and garden demonstration plots.
Event organizer Dana Pulis says Energy Day wants to celebrate Montana’s agricultural heritage and recognize another key industry. “We’re doing business with some of the biggest corporations in energy development while we’re wearing jeans, while we’re in a 100-year-old barn, and while we’re enjoying ice cream and hot apple pie.” Pulis says.
Several companies brought working oil field equipment for public display. Alan Olson of Sanjel Corporation brought what’s known as “the blender.” This 73-foot long truck mixes the hydraulic fracturing – or fracking - fluid and sand. Olson says once MontanaFair is over, this unit is headed for Texas.
A horsepower unit injects the fluid into the wells.
Texas license plates are common in Billings because of the Bakken oil boom. When Olson is asked if Montana is the new Texas: "When you go down and look at our operations in Texas, all of our equipment down there has Montana license plates," he says. "So Texas is the new Montana."
This oil field services truck by Cliffhanger, LLC heats up water. “This is a spectacular piece of equipment, says Olson. “We’ve got to heat up water in the wintertime. You can’t frack or cement with ice cubes.”
Sanjel and Nabors Well Services, the world’s largest on-shore drilling company, are among those also looking at fairgoers as potential employees.
“We’re looking for truck drivers,” says Russ Burch of Billings. The human resources district manager oversees hiring for Montana, North Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah. “I need to hire about 40 of them [truck drivers] to work rotations for us in North Dakota.”
The catch, he says, is they need to be experienced in winter driving -- and willing to put on chains in below-zero temperatures with strong winds.