Thursday, August 15, 2013
Thomas Stackpole, editorial fellow at the Washington, DC, bureau of Mother Jones, talks about the Enbridge pipeline and how it’s gone largely unnoticed and uncovered while the Keystone XL pipeline has gotten all the attention criticism. He's written about it in Mother Jones: "Keystone Light: The Pipeline You've Never Heard of Is Probably Going to Be Built."
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
By Martin DiCaro : WAMU
The nation’s infrastructure received a D+, a slight improvement from the D issued in 2009, in an infrastructure report card released by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), a group whose members stand to benefit from increased spending on the construction of roads, bridges, levees and dams.
The report grades infrastructure in sixteen sectors and prescribes a funding level necessary to bring each up to a B grade. That will require spending $454 billion annually over the next eight years, according to the group’s figures. However, the society estimates only $253 billion annually is currently earmarked for infrastructure repair and improvements, leaving a yearly funding gap of $200 billion.
At a news conference at the Earth Conservation Corps Pump House in southeast Washington – with a view of the structurally obsolete Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge spanning the Anacostia River – advocates of infrastructure spending sought to convey their message in easy to understand terms, acknowledging that ordinary citizens often do not see the costs associated with outdated infrastructure.
“The real goal is that Americans would have this conversation about infrastructure at their kitchen table,” said ASCE president Greg DiLoreto. “They’d sit down and they’d say, you know what? I was driving home last night, hit a pothole, and I ruined the front end of our car. What can be done about that?”
Former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, the co-founder of the bipartisan group Building America’s Future, said more Americans are beginning to realize that infrastructure is not free and does not last forever. Still, there is a large difference between what a group of civil engineers believes should be spent and what Congress and state and local governments are willing to spend.
“Members of both parties feel this way, predominately Republicans, that we can’t spend money on anything. That’s wrong,” Rendell says. “We’ve got to get away from this idea that investing in infrastructure is wasteful spending. There are some projects that are bad and we should ask for stricter accountability and transparency, but we’ve got to invest in growth.”
The sector with the highest grade (B-) is solid waste. Inland waterways and levees both received the lowest grade, D-. Grades were poor to mediocre in transportation sectors: aviation (D), bridges (C+), rail (C+), roads (D), and transit (D).
“First we have to repair the quality of the roads,” Rendell said. “But then we have to expand. We have to do additional ramps. We have to widen lanes. A good hunk of the money should be spent on mass transit. There’s got to be a balance.”
The report card breaks down infrastructure state by state. In Washington, D.C., for example, 99 percent of roads are rated poor or mediocre. The report card says driving on roads in need of repair costs District of Columbia motorists $311 million a year in extra vehicle repairs and operating costs – $833 per motorist.
Winning the public’s support to raise revenues for infrastructure spending will depend on convincing the public they have to pay more, whether its taxes or user fees, according to Emil Frankel, a visiting scholar at the D.C.-based Bipartisan Policy Center and former Assistant Secretary of Transportation under the George W. Bush Administration.
"The challenge is being able to make the case about specific facilities that people know and understand, and what the implications would be if they have to close that facility,” said Frankel, who said the ASCE’s figures are sound, even if they are unrealistic in terms of what governments are willing to spend.
“We’re not going to raise that money. People acknowledge we have to invest more but there’s disagreement about how much we need to invest. Whatever funds are available we have to make better choices, prioritize and target,” Frankel said.
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
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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.
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.”
Thursday, June 28, 2012
(Billings, MT – YPR) - The chief architect of the Affordable Care Act says he wasn’t sitting in the U-S Supreme Court to hear the justices uphold the law. Instead Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) was working on passing a federal transportation bill.
“I was thinking of going over (to the Supreme Court) but frankly I have so much to do,” Baucus says. “I gotta work to get this highway bill passed.” He says sitting at the Court would be “very interesting. Historical. But not the best use of my time.”
Baucus is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and chairman of the Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure. He’s also a member of the subcommittee Conference Committee the current transportation bill which expires Saturday.
Baucus says he's pleased a deal could be reached even if it covers only about 2 1/2 years.
“That’s half a loaf. Usually highway bills are 5 or 6 years. That would be a whole loaf,” he says. A full re authorization would give better certainty to highway departments, contractors, and others to plan ahead, he says.
In reaching the compromise, Republicans on the conference committee gave up on two key points, including putting on a fast track a permit for the proposed Keystone X-L pipeline. Baucus also strongly supports that project.
“Am I disappointed? Yes. I am disappointed,” he says. “But look we got a highway bill. A highway bill absent Keystone is better than no highway bill at all.”
Baucus says the Keystone X-L pipeline project comes down to job creation for Montana and elsewhere and energy independence, “I think it’s a no brainer. It should be in there but it’s not. I’ll keep fighting for it.”
Thursday, May 31, 2012
(Billings, MT – YPR) – A leading member of the Congressional conference committee working on a transportation reauthorization bill doubts the panel will craft a full reauthorization bill by the June 30th deadline.
“Not this time,” says Senator Max Baucus (D-MT). “I don’t think there’s enough time in Congress. Believe it or not there’s not that many legislative days before Congress adjourns in October. But we’ve set it up so we have more than enough time next year to do a full reauthorization as a full 5 year bill.”
The current legislation expired in 2009.
Baucus (D-MT) chairs the Senate Finance Committee and the Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure. He’s a ranking member of the conference committee tasked with finding common ground on a transportation bill before the current extension runs out at the end of June.
“I think everyone realizes that we’ve got to pass a highway bill and we’ll get it done,” says Baucus.
Baucus invited ambassadors from 5 foreign countries to visit several Montana communities this week to talk about trade opportunities.
He says the transportation conference committee is still working on issues, like the Keystone X-L pipeline. Some members of Congress want this and other projects inserted into the transportation bill. The original Keystone X-L project sought to build a 1,179 mile pipeline from the Tar Sand Fields in Alberta, Canada to refineries along the U-S Gulf Coast.
“Having said that, the main point is that we are close to figuring out how to pay for the highway bill so we can extend it until next September,” Baucus says. “Hopefully for a little bit longer than that but at least to next September.” (September 2013)
Baucus says Congress knows businessmen, highway contractors and states are looking for more certainty when it comes to transportation funding.
Wednesday, May 30, 2012
(Billings, MT – YPR) – The panel charged with reviewing all pipelines that cross Montana’s rivers and streams in the wake of last year’s ExxonMobil oil pipeline break into the Yellowstone River is to issue its final report to Governor Brian Schweitzer this summer.
Schweitzer, D-MT, issued an executive order creating the review council after the Silvertip Pipeline ruptured last July releasing an estimated 1,000 barrels of crude into the Yellowstone River.
Officials think floodwaters scoured the bottom of the Yellowstone River, exposing the pipeline. Exxon Mobil estimated the spill clean up costs at about $135 million dollars.
Schweitzer directed the Montana Oil Pipeline Safety Review Council to assess the risk of ruptures and leaks for each pipeline that crosses a Montana waterway, including the pipeline’s location and the condition of emergency shut-off valves.
“We now have at our fingertips information on where those pipelines are and who they belong to,” says Bonnie Lovelace, regulatory affairs manager for the Montana Department of Environmental Quality. She says key pieces of information are the locations of shut-off valves and whether companies have the latest technology for leak-detection.
“Which means pipeline companies having their control rooms watching those valves and having alarms that tell them that there’s a problem,” she says. Then quickly shutting down the flow.
Lovelace says one result of the review was the creation of an interactive Montana Pipeline Safety Map. She says the data came from the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) from information from pipeline owners and operators. She says the database also includes: aerial photographs, topographic maps, property boundaries/ownership, wells, and monitoring stations.
Lovelace says one of the most significant lessons leaned from the Silvertip Pipeline break was the need for information.
“After realizing such a thing could happen, every body’s concerned about could it happen again,” she says. “Are there things we can do to be ready or to essentially prevent a further incident that we had on the Yellowstone River?”
Lovelace says that means working cooperatively with and supporting the U-S Transportation Department’s PHMSA, which regulates the nation’s 2.3 million miles of pipelines.
In the wake of the Silvertip Pipeline rupture, opponents called for tougher state and federal regulations for the proposed Keystone X-L pipeline project. The 1,700 mile pipeline proposal would transport crude from tar sand oil fields in Alberta, Canada and the Bakken Oil Fields in eastern Montana and western North Dakota to refineries on the U-S Gulf coast. The Obama Administration denied TransCanada’s permit last January on the grounds the congressionally mandated deadline did not give federal officials enough time to evaluate the proposal. TransCanada has since offered a shorter pipeline project from Cushing, OK to Port Arthur, TX, including a new route through Nebraska that skirts that state’s environmentally sensitive Sand Hills region and the Ogallala acquifer, the main water source for Nebraska residents.
In Montana, the Pipeline Safety Review Council identified 9,206 pipeline river crossings in Montana. “So we have lots and lots of network of pipelines throughout Montana,” she says. “It’s like a spider web.”
The Pipeline Safety Review Council is made up of the directors of the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, The Montana Department of Transportation, and the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.
The panel made 6 recommendations. Public comments on the report will be accepted until June 27, 2012. The Pipeline Safety Review Council plans to deliver a final report to the governor July 18, 2012.
Wednesday, May 23, 2012
(Washington, D.C.) Striking a decidedly feel-good tone on transportation legislation Wednesday, Democrats' chief negotiator painted herself optimistic about the chances of a House - Senate agreement before July 4th.
"I'm feeling good," Senate Environment and Public Works Chair Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), told reporters on Capitol Hill.
Boxer praised talks with Republicans--and even the Republicans themselves--for steady progress. She's leading final House-Senate conference negotiations over surface transportation legislation that expires June 30th.
"I welcome a change of heart on behalf of Republicans that I feel we have now," Boxer said. She was referring to the basics of a 2-year, $109 billion Senate bill that passed with 74 bipartisan votes in March.
Boxer said both she and chief GOP negotiator Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) agree on the desirability of a bill of even longer duration than the Senate bill. But therein lies the difficulty.While Boxer says that 80% of her EPW bill is already agreed to, that bill does not include some of the most contentious issues.
"I don't have any sicking points to share with you today," Boxer said. Even if the senator isn't sharing, that doesn't mean that sticking points aren't present.
How to pay for spending in the bill is a key issue with House conservatives, and one that aides say is not yet solved. So are the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline, a GOP demand to roll back EPA coal ash regulations, spending on bike lanes, parks and other so-called transportation "enhancements," and other issues.
Boxer said she spoke to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) by phone Tuesday about the conference and that she was encouraged by the chat. Boehner released a statement saying he was “hopeful that the negotiators can complete work on a conference agreement that includes Keystone and other energy measures to address high gas prices and create jobs."
The statement went on to say Boehner expects "meaningful infrastructure reforms that ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent effectively and efficiently on roads and bridges across this country.”
"I there's a lot more than three or four or two hard issues," Boxer said. Last week House Republicans voted to demand the conference return and approve the Keystone pipeline. Boxer dismissed the importance of the vote as routine but added that discussions had begun on contentious areas like Keystone.
Tuesday, April 17, 2012
By Kate Hinds
The House will vote tomorrow on whether to extend transportation funding another three months -- but President Obama has already threatened to veto it over language mandating approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.
The White House said in a strongly worded statement Tuesday "because this bill circumvents a longstanding and proven process for determining whether cross-border pipelines are in the national interest by mandating the permitting of the Keystone XL pipeline before a new route has been submitted and assessed, the President’s senior advisors would recommend that he veto this legislation."
Thursday, March 08, 2012
The Senate's transportation bill bill may be the last game in town.
House Republicans leaders have been struggling for weeks to drum up enough support in their own ranks to pass a 5-year bill. Now, faced with a ticking clock on an expiring law, they may be forced to align instead with a bipartisan alternative now on the Senate floor.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) acknowledged Thursday that the GOP's bill still doesn't have the votes it needs to come to the floor and pass. That's despite last-ditch pleas from Republican leaders this week, warning members that the bill might be their last chance to put a conservative stamp on a debate that must ultimately include the Senate and President Obama.
"At this point in time the plan is to bring up the Senate bill, or something like it," Boehner told reporters. He added that talks continue over the 5-year bill, priced originally at $260 billion. Boehner said a longer-term bill is one "most of our members want.'
But getting enough of them to agree to how to do it, and where to find the money to pay for it has proved another matter. And House Democrats have kept the effort at arm's length.
Meanwhile, the Senate began voting on amendments to its own 2-year, $109 billion bill Thursday, though none was directly related to transportation policy. The most high profile vote killed a GOP effort to force approval of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) called Boehner's comments "a big step forward" in getting final agreement on a bill. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) who handles political strategy and messaging for Senate Democrats, said Democrats and Republicans could reach a bipartisan deal on the bill and urged Republicans not to "muck it up."
The Senate is set to continue voting on transportation amendments next Tuesday.
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
(Helena, MT – Yellowstone Public Radio) – The US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) told Montana officials the agency expects to release a report soon on last summer’s crude oil pipeline spill into the Yellowstone River.
The update was delivered to the February meeting of the Montana Oil Pipeline Safety Review Council.
PHMSA is wrapping up its Corrective Action Order against ExxonMobil, owner of the Silvertip Pipeline. The CAO essentially tells the company to make the pipeline safe and get rid of systemic problems.
On July 1, 2011, that pipeline broke and spilled 1,500 barrels of crude into the Yellowstone River near Laurel in South Central Montana.
Chris Hoidal is regional director for PHMSA in Colorado. He told the Montana Oil Pipeline Safety Review Council that PHMSA is waiting for the test results of the broken piece of pipeline removed from the Yellowstone River.
“It’s our intention to close the order as soon as the metallurgical testing is done and we complete the accident investigation,” he says.
The forensics on the broken section of pipe could shed light on what specifically caused the break. Investigators suspect scouring caused by the flooding Yellowstone River contributed to the pipeline break.
Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer created the Montana Oil Pipeline Safety Review Council following the oil spill to investigate pipelines that cross waterways and make recommendations on how to prevent future spills.
The panel is chaired by the Montana Department of Environmental Quality Director (DEQ) Richard Opper. He says the council plans to release its draft report by the end of April or early May.
Some members of the public would like absolutes that there will be no future oil pipeline spills in Montana in the future. “I would have say I am one of those people who would like an absolute,” Opper says. “There are no absolutes. As long as we’re going to use oil in this country there are going to be spills occasionally. There are going to be accidents. There are also going to be things that we can do minimize the risk to make sure that the product that does flow - underneath our landscape and across our rivers – we can take steps to make sure that they’re safe.”
ExxonMobil recently made upgrades to shore up its Silvertip line. The company also spent an estimated $115 million to clean up parts of the Yellowstone River, the shoreline, and adjacent lands contaminated with crude following the pipeline break.
The Montana DEQ, meanwhile, is taking public comment until Feb. 21, 2012 on a proposed legal settlement with ExxonMobil Pipeline Company over the oil spill. The Administrative Order of Consent covers monitoring, remediation, as well as penalties and the cost of the cleanup.
Thursday, July 14, 2011
(Billings, MT – Yellowstone Public Radio) - Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer says pipelines will continue to be part of the state’s landscape -- despite a recent spill--and he hopes regulators will give a green light constructing another one.
On July 1, 2011, an ExxonMobil pipeline spilled an estimated 1,000 barrels of oil into the Wild and Scenic Yellowstone River.
TransCanada wants to build a pipeline -- the Keystone XL -- that will carry crude from oil fields in Alberta Canada, through Montana and on to Cushing, Oklahoma.
Schweitzer, a Democrat, says federal regulators will decide whether the Keystone XL pipeline becomes a reality. He added that it would be an opportunity lost, however, if the pipeline isn’t built.
“The Keystone represents about 5% of the oil we use in this country. There’s a lot of oil in Alberta,” Schweitzer said. “I would rather buy it from our neighbors to the north than I would from petro-dictators in Africa or the Middle East.”
Schweitzer spoke in Billings Wednesday to a group of landowners who have property along the Yellowstone River affected by the oil spill.
Citing the Yellowstone River oil spill, environmentalists have stepped up opposition to the Keystone XL project
An estimated 79 protesters, some affiliated with the group Rising Tide North America, some with Earth First!, demonstrated on Tuesday at the State Capitol in Helena. They demanded a meeting with Schweitzer. Eventually, the governor agreed to meet with the group in the reception room.
The meeting broke up after someone started playing a piano in the room and about a dozen protesters jumped on the large tables and began dancing and stomping their feet. Schweitzer left, and five protesters were later arrested. They pleaded not guilty in Helena Municipal Court. The protesters were released without bail Tuesday on the conditions that they remain law abiding and stay away from the Capitol.
During a public meeting in Billings the next day, Schweitzer was asked about the incident. “Well, some of the folks who don’t like the Keystone are snappy dressers -- and good dancers, I found out,” he quipped.
He said there will be pipelines built in Montana in the future because the state has oil and cars use it. There is a current oil boom in eastern Montana and northern North Dakota.
“Look, any new pipeline that’s going to be built in Montana is going to be built to the most modern up-to-date standards,” he said. He said the alternative is to transport crude and gasoline by semi trucks or trains, but those are not fail-safe either. “Through time we’ve found that these pipelines are probably safer than some of the other ways of moving oil and gasoline around."
Schweitzer says while no one wants breaks to occur, as long as we continue to use gasoline, citizens in some way accept that accidents can and do happen.
“And so we’re going to hold this company (ExxonMobil) and other companies that have spilled oil, they understand that it’s their liability. They understand that it's their mistake and they’re responsible for this effort. But until we don’t use oil anymore we all have some responsibility here,” Schweitzer says.
ExxonMobil officials said continuing high and fast water in the Yellowstone River is hampering efforts to determine why the Silvertip Pipeline broke. The pipeline carries oil from fields in Wyoming to an ExxonMobil refinery in Billings, Montana.
During a Congressional hearing today on the pipeline break, company officials said if regulators approve, the tentative plan is to replace the Silvertip pipeline with new technology.
Pipelines are regulated by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Adminsitration (PMHSA) in the US Department of Transportation.
Monday, April 04, 2011
By Jim O'Grady
This in today:
U.S. TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY RAY LAHOOD ANNOUNCES PIPELINE SAFETY ACTION PLAN
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today launched a national pipeline safety initiative to repair and replace aging pipelines to prevent potentially catastrophic incidents.
Following several fatal pipeline accidents, including one that killed five people in Allentown, PA, Secretary LaHood called upon U.S. pipeline owners and operators to conduct a comprehensive review of their oil and gas pipelines to identify areas of high risk and accelerate critical repair and replacement work. Secretary LaHood also announced federal legislation aimed at strengthening oversight on pipeline safety, as well as plans to convene a Pipeline Safety Forum on April 18th in Washington, DC, to gather state officials, industry leaders, and other pipeline safety stakeholders in order to discuss steps for improving the safety and efficiency of the nation’s pipeline infrastructure.
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“People deserve to know that they can turn on the lights, the heat, or the stove without endangering their families and neighbors,” said Secretary LaHood. “The safety of the American public is my top priority and I am taking on this critical issue to avoid future tragedies we have seen in Allentown and around the country.”