First Nations to resume blockade in Canadian fracking fight

Renewed protests follow announcement that energy company will re-start shale gas exploration

A Royal Proclamation day feast brought out over 300 to the anti-fracking blockade in Rexton, New Brunswick in early October. [Photo: Miles Howe]

A Royal Proclamation day feast brought out over 300 to the anti-fracking blockade in Rexton, New Brunswick in early October. [Photo: Miles Howe]

By Sarah Lazare, November 5, 2013.  Source:  Common Dreams

Elsipogtog First Nations members are heading back to the streets in New Brunswick this week to defend their land from a gas drilling company seeking to re-start exploratory fracking operations in the region.

The new wave of local anti-drilling resistance will resume an ongoing battle between the community members who faced a paramilitary-style onslaught by police last month that sparked international outcry and a wave of solidarity protests.

“This is an issue of human rights and access to clean drinking water, and it’s fundamentally about sovereignty and self-determination.” –Clayton Thomas-Muller, Idle No More

The renewed protest follows a recent announcement by New Brunswick’s premiere that SWN Resources Canada, a subsidiary of the Houston-based Southwestern Energy Company, will resume shale gas exploration in First Nations territory after it was halted by blockades and protests.

Elsipogtog members announced Monday they will join with local residents and other First Nations communities—including the Mi’kmaq people—to “light a sacred fire” and stage a protest to stop SWN from fracking.

“SWN is violating our treaty rights. We are here to save our water and land, and to protect our animals and people. There will be no fracking at all,” said Louis Jerome, a Mi’kmaq sun dancer, in a statement. “We are putting a sacred fire here, and it must be respected. We are still here, and we’re not backing down.”

“The people of Elsipogtog along with local people have a very strong resolve and will be there as long as they need to be to keep the threat of fracking from destroying their water,” said Clayton Thomas-Muller, a campaigner with Idle No More, in an interview with Common Dreams.

Community members  previously blocked a road near the town of Rexton in rural New Brunswick to stop energy companies from conducting shale gas exploration on their land without their consent.

In early October, the government imposed a temporary injunction on the New Brunswick protest, bowing to pressure from SWN.

Claiming the authority of the injunction, over 100 Royal Canadian Mounted Police launched a paramilitary-style assault on the blockade in late October, bringing rifles and attack dogs and arresting 40 people.

First Nations communities and activists across Canada and the world launched a wave of actions in solidarity in response to the attack.

“Within 24 hours of the paramilitary assault on the nonviolent blockade by the fed police, Idle No More and other networks organized over 100 solidarity actions in over half a dozen countries,” said Thomas-Muller.

Days later, a Canadian judge overruled the injunction on the protests. Yet the federal and provincial governments continue to allow SWN to move forward fracking plans on indigenous lands, in what First Nation campaigners say is a violation of federal laws protecting the sovereignty of their communities.

“This is an issue of human rights and access to clean drinking water, and it’s fundamentally about sovereignty and self-determination,” said Thomas-Muller. “Support for the Elsipogtog and their actions to reclaim lands in their territory is something that is powerful and united from coast to coast and around the world.”

Rising Tide ‘fracks’ B.C. premier’s front lawn


November 3, 2013. Source: Rising Tide Vancouver Coast Salish Territories

On Sunday morning, activists with Rising Tide-Vancouver Coast Salish Territories set up a 15-foot mock fracking rig on Premier Christy Clark’s lawn and announcing that “Because the Premier loves fracking, we figured we would save her the hassle of trying to take over other peoples’ homes and bring it right to her!” says Jacquelyn Fraser, an activist with the group.

“We are just so worried about all the water that is being used and polluted in northeastern B.C. for fracking. We are sure Premier Clark is too and we’re sure she can share some of her own supply so that she can see the boom in the industry she keeps promoting,” says Fraser as ‘construction workers’ set up the rig behind her. “She may not end up with a lot of fresh water at the end, but at least she has some we could use right now.”

The group is referring to the impacts on the environment caused by hydraulic fracturing, a process through which water, sand, and chemicals are injected into the ground to fracture rock and release unconventional natural gas.

“With Christy Clark touring North America to promote Liquiefied Natural Gas, fracking and gas extractionis set to take over the province,” says Maryam Adrangi, Climate and Energy Campaigner with the Council of Canadians.

Both Rising Tide and Council of Canadians toured up to northern B.C. to speak with communities impacted by fracking and fracking pipelines, such as the Pacific Trails Pipeline. Numerous families said that shortly after fracking began in the region, they were no longer able to drink their tap water and the water burned their children’s skin.

“There are over 23,419 operating fracking wells in the region and another 4,000 which are abandoned. We shouldn’t make communities up north face all the burden,” said Adrangi jokingly. “In all seriousness, no one should have to face the impacts of fracking which include having all of their freshwater being used by industry and for coporate profit, and then having unidentified, toxic chemicals put back into the water cycle.”

The group also noted the serious climate impacts of fracking, as more studies indicate that fracked gas can produce as much emissions as coal.

Christy Clark has been strongly encouraging the province’s future in the fossil fuel industry, with a meeting with Alberta Premier Alison Redford on Tuesday to discuss the infamous Northern Gateway Pipeline proposal as she just returned from a North American tour to promote Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG).

Noam Chomsky: Canada on high-speed race ‘to destroy the environment’

Noted linguist tells the Guardian “the most powerful among us are the ones who are trying to drive the society to destruction”

Noam Chomsky speaking in Trieste, Italy. (Photo: SISSA/cc/flickr)

Noam Chomsky speaking in Trieste, Italy. (Photo: SISSA/cc/flickr)

By Andrea Germanos, Common Dreams, November 1, 2013

Canada is on a race “to destroy the environment as fast as possible,” said noted linguist and intellectual Noam Chomsky in an interview with the Guardian published Friday.

Chomsky took aim at the conservative government led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, which has pushed forincreased exploitation of the tar sands,muzzled federal scientists, championed the Keystone XL pipeline and gutted environmental protections.

Harper’s pro-oil, anti-science policies have been the target vocal, widespread opposition, including recent sweeping mobilizations by Indigenous communities like the Elsipogtog First Nation fighting fracking exploration in New Brunswick.

“It means taking every drop of hydrocarbon out of the ground, whether it’s shale gas in New Brunswick or tar sands in Alberta and trying to destroy the environment as fast as possible, with barely a question raised about what the world will look like as a result,” Chomsky told the British paper, referring to Harper’s energy policies.

Yet there is resistance, he said, and “it is pretty ironic that the so-called ‘least advanced’ people are the ones taking the lead in trying to protect all of us, while the richest and most powerful among us are the ones who are trying to drive the society to destruction.”

His comments echo those he wrote this spring in a piece for TomDispatch entitled “Humanity Imperiled: The Path to Disaster.” He wrote: “[A]t one extreme you have indigenous, tribal societies trying to stem the race to disaster. At the other extreme, the richest, most powerful societies in world history, like the United States and Canada, are racing full-speed ahead to destroy the environment as quickly as possible.”

To organize around climate change, Chomsky told the Guardian that progressives should not frame it as a “prophecy of doom,” but rather “a call to action” that can be “energizing.”

As the country continues what David Suzuki called a “systematic attack on science and democracy” and “we are facing an irreversible climate catastrophe like the tar sands,” Canada’s race to disaster shows no signs of abating.

Mi’kmaq Victory against fracking on their lands in New Brunswick

Source: Climate Connection

Yesterday and today we celebrate with Elsipogtog First Nation after the Court of Queen’s Bench decision to lift Southwestern Energy’s (SWN) injunction! This injunction was filed by the Texas based company to end the blockade protecting Mi’kmaq traditional territory from fracking.

For the last three years, the Mi’kmaq people in New Brunswick have proclaimed their right to consultation regarding shale gas exploration, commonly known as “fracking”, and have been part of a series of peaceful actions to protect their unceded territory.  On Thursday Oct 18th, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) violently attacked their peaceful encampment.

Activist Suzanne Patles, one of those named in the injunction, said she believes the ruling from the judge sends a direct message to the energy company to stop their exploration activities and leave the province.The Elsipogtog protest was part of a larger campaign against fracking in New Brunswick encompassing 28 organizations. The 40 people arrested included most of the Elsipogtog First Nations leadership, including Chief Aaron Sock.

There was a press conference the morning of Oct 21st in Elsipogtog where people involved on the frontline shared their experiences of last weeks violence. The people of Elsipogtog are debriefing with the community about Thursday’s RCMP raid, and continue to discuss the next steps and development of a community process to move forward in protecting and defending their land and water against fracking.

Links to articles/videos:

Lagoons filled with toxic water coming to Ohio’s fracklands

John Upton, Grist

Where frackers go, lagoons filled with toxic wastewater follow.

Fracking wastewater impoundment lots as big as football fields already dot heavily fracked landscapes in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The lagoons are built to help the industry manage and reuse the vast volumes of wastewater that it produces.

Ohio lawmakers looked admiringly to their neighboring Marcellus Shale states and decided to draw up their own rules for wastewater lagoons. From The Columbus Dispatch:

“We are putting in a process to outline their standards of construction and their length of use,” said Mark Bruce, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.


A provision in the most-recent state budget requires Natural Resources officials to create rules and permits for them. …

Tom Stewart, vice president of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, said the lagoons would be built with plastic liners to prevent leaks. He said treatment operations would strip out harmful pollutants.

“They want to clean it up and use it again,” Stewart said. “That means getting the water back to as fresh a state as possible.”

But environmentalists worry the wastewater pits will pose threats to streams and groundwater. Trent Dougherty, a lawyer with the Ohio Environmental Council, also warned that they could be used as long-term storage for tainted water: “There is a point in time when temporary storage can become long-term storage,” he said.


John Upton is a science fan and green news boffin who tweets, posts articles to Facebook, and blogs about ecology. He welcomes reader questions, tips, and incoherent rants:

This video explains almost everything you want to know about fracking

By Thomas Stackpole, Grist


Still trying to figure out what the big deal with fracking is? Hydraulic fracturing — fracking for short — is the controversial process that has fueled the new energy boom in the U.S., making it possible to tap reserves that had previously been too difficult and expensive to extract. It works by pumping millions of gallons of pressurized water, with sand and a cocktail of chemicals, into rock formations to create tiny cracks and release trapped oil and gas. It’s been tied to earthquakes and has led to a number of lawsuits, including one that resulted in a settlement agreement that barred a 7-year-old from ever talking about it. At the same time, fracking has also created a glut of cheap energy and is helping to push coal, and coal-fired power plants, out of the market.

But for all the fighting about whether fracking is good or bad (and research has shown the more people know, the more polarized they become), many people don’t understand what fracking actually is. The Munich-based design team Kurzgesagt has put together a video that explains why fracking — which has been around since the 1940s — just caught on in the last 10 years, and why people are worried. The video, which was posted earlier this month, has gone viral, and racked up over 1 million views in less than 10 days.

The video gets a lot right, but critics have also taken issue with a few of its claims. For example, the video states that fracking companies “say nothing about the precise composition of the chemical mixture but it is known that there are about 700 chemical agents which can be used in the process.” Energy in Depth, an industry group, has released a response noting that companies do disclose some information about chemicals used in fracking. What that group doesn’t mention, however, is that companies don’t have to disclose chemicals that are designated as “trade secrets,” which is a pretty serious exception.

Energy in Depth also quotes former EPA chief Lisa Jackson’s testimony (among others) that “in no case have we made a definitive determination that the [fracturing] process has caused chemicals to enter groundwater.” The key word here is “definitive” — there is a growing body of evidence that fracking can be linked to increased levels of methane, propane, and ethane in groundwater near fracking sites (likely due to faulty wells), and there are plenty of reasons to question whether pumping billions of gallons of toxic fluid into disposal wells is a good idea. (ProPublica has a couple of great, long pieces on injection wells.)

This story was produced by Mother Jones as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Thomas Stackpole is an editorial fellow in Mother Jones’ Washington, D.C., bureau.

Safety inspectors target oil-hauling train

John Upton, Grist

All that combustible fuel being produced by America’s fracking boom has federal transportation safety officials on edge.

Inspectors have started scrutinizing train manifests and tank car placards on trains departing from North Dakota’s Bakken region. The region is producing copious quantities of fracked oil, which is being carried to refineries in railway cars — many of them in a railcar model that’s prone to explode.

Operation Classification, aka the Bakken Blitz, was launched last month, just weeks after one such train carrying Bakken oil derailed and exploded in Quebec, killing 47 people and leveling much of the formerly scenic town of Lac-Mégantic. The U.S. Department of Transportation says it began planning the inspections in March after officials noticed discrepancies between the contents of rail cars and the hazardous warnings they bore. From Reuters:

“We need to make sure that what is in those tankers is what they say it is,” Cynthia Quarterman, administrator of the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, told reporters.

Highly combustible, light crude from the Bakken region is particularly dangerous, Quarterman said, and inspectors will make sure the fuel is properly labeled and handled with care.

Officials want to make certain that those responsible for the shipments know how dangerous their cargo is.

“The flashpoint needs to be taken into account,” Quarterman said, referring to the combustibility of flammable liquids that can vary according to the type of crude.

The Obama administration is also mulling new safety rules to address the boom in oil hauling; a draft version should be released within weeks. On Friday, the administration introduced temporary emergency rules designed to prevent a repeat of the Lac-Mégantic disaster on American soil, including a ban on leaving vehicles unattended if they are carrying hazardous materials.

The united resistance of Fearless Summer — a conversation with Mathew Louis-Rosenberg

(Fearless Summer / Nina Montenegro)

(Fearless Summer / Nina Montenegro)

Bryan Farrell, Waging Non-Violence

This has been a busy summer for climate activists — with actions against the fossil fuel industry taking place on a near daily basis around the country. But busy is not the word they are using. They prefer to describe their efforts this summer as fearless. And why not? They are, after all, facing off against the largest, most profitable industry in the history of the world.

Nevertheless, this fearless action is not without strategy. In fact, the term Fearless Summer is being used to unite climate campaigns across the country that are working to stop fossil fuel extraction and protect communities on the frontlines. By coordinating collective action under the same banner, the aim is to speak as one voice against the fossil fuel industry.

To better understand how Fearless Summer came to be and what it’s accomplishing, I spoke with one of its coordinators, Mathew Louis-Rosenberg, who works in southern West Virginia fighting strip-mining — both with the community organization Coal River Mountain Watch and the direct action campaign Radical Action for Mountains and Peoples Survival.

How did the idea for the Fearless Summer come about?

Fearless Summer grew out of a discussion at the first Extreme Energy Extraction Summit held last February in upstate New York. The summit brought together an incredibly diverse group of 70 activists from across the country fighting against coal, gas, oil, tar sands, uranium and industrial biomass to create a more unified movement against energy extraction. We created shared languages, fostered relationships across the diverse spectrum of groups working on the issues and provided space for dialogue that allows innovative collaborations to form. Fearless Summer was one such collaboration.

Who are the principle organizers and groups involved? And how do you coordinate between one another?

Fearless Summer is an open-ended organizing framework and a call-to-action. So it’s difficult to say who the “principle organizers” are. There has been a core group of folks helping to coordinate and create infrastructure that includes organizers across a wide spectrum of groups, such as Radical Action for Mountains and Peoples Survival, Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment, Peaceful Uprising, Food and Water Watch, Green Memes, Tar Sands Blockade, the student divestment movement and others. Coordination work has primarily been done through a listserv and open, weekly conference calls. There is no formal organizing or decision-making structure.

How does this build on last year’s Summer of Solidarity initiative and the actions that have happened since? Do you see it as an escalation?

Fearless Summer was explicitly conceived of as a next step beyond last year’s Summer of Solidarity. I think the intention and scale of Fearless Summer is the escalation. Summer of Solidarity arose out of the organizers of several large actions — the Mountain Mobilization, Coal Export Action, Tar Sands Blockade and Stop the Frack Attack — recognizing that we were all planning big things in a similar timeframe and by working together, primarily through social media, we could amplify each other’s messages rather than compete for attention. The hashtag #ClimateSOS took off and had a life of its own, but coordination never went beyond that core group. Fearless Summer was explicitly launched as an open framework intended to draw in as many groups and actions as possible and came with a clear statement of purpose. This time we engaged a much much wider spectrum of groups and actions under clear principles of unity and escalation. Fearless Summer has gone beyond social media coordination to really create some national dialogue between grassroots groups on presenting a united front on energy issues.

How does Fearless Summer compliment or differ from the many other summer initiatives going on, such as’s Summer Heat and indigenous peoples’ Sovereignty Summer? Did you coordinate with those organizers?

We see these efforts as highly complementary. We are probably most similar to Sovereignty Summer in how we are organized. Many current indigenous sovereignty struggles are deeply connected to struggles against energy industry attacks on native lands and we have been promoting many such struggles through Fearless Summer. We have also been talking extensively with organizers about the connections with Summer Heat, which is obviously different due to the central coordination through and a much more focused timeframe. Fearless Summer is an open framework for action through the summer, so any other similar organizing efforts strengthen the goals of Fearless Summer regardless of how coordinated they are with us.

How many actions have taken place under the Fearless Summer banner so far?

It’s really difficult to say. The trouble with an unstaffed, unfunded, open collaboration is that it’s hard to keep up with where people are taking things. Our kickoff week of action in June had at least 28 actions in six days and there have been dozens more outside of that. At least 50-60.

What actions are coming up?

To be honest, I don’t know. There’s still a lot going on. We’re hosting an action camp in West Virginia and I’ve heard whispers of big plans in other parts of the country, but at this point people are just taking the framework and running with it as we intended.

What are the plans for the fall and beyond?

Those conversations are happening right now. I think people want to see coordination move to the next level of acting together nationally on some common targets more and there’s also a lot of talk about connecting more with other social justice issues and talking about root causes. The second Extreme Energy Extraction Summit is coming up September 6-10 and a lot of discussion will happen there.

Are you feeling optimistic about the larger climate justice movement at the moment?

I am feeling optimistic about the movement. We see more and more communities getting active. It’s getting harder and harder for the energy industry to find anywhere to operate without resistance. And it’s having an impact. The president’s speech and climate plan, despite its deep flaws, speak to the impact we are having. Four years ago, Obama was telling student leaders that he couldn’t do anything without a large scale public pressure movement. We have that now. I think we have a long way to go still. A lot of work still needs to be done to engage a wider base, connect with other struggles around justice and root causes of climate change, and articulate a policy platform that solves the climate crisis in a just and honest way. On the action front, we are still a long way from where the nuclear freeze movement was — with thousands occupying power plants and test sites — doing jail solidarity and really creating a concrete problem for the industry beyond public relations.

If momentum continues to build in the next year, where do you see it coming from? And what might the work of activists look like next summer?

I’m not sure what the big catalyst could be. So far the growth of the movement has mostly been in a proliferation of local campaigns. I think it’s going to take a lot of national dialogue to knit those into collective action for collective wins. My hope is that by next year we will be seeing mass direct action that truly challenges the ability of legal systems to respond and corporations to operate. We need more people acting like their children’s lives are on the line. Because they are.

Beyond Keystone XL: Three Controversial Pipelines You Probably Haven’t Heard Of

By Kiley Kroh, Climate Progress

While the national debate remains largely focused on President Obama’s impending decision regarding the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, communities across the U.S. and Canada are grappling with the oil and gas industry’s rapidly expanding pipeline network — cutting through their backyards, threatening water supplies, and leaving them vulnerable to devastating spills.

As production booms in Alberta’s tar sands and fracking opens up vast oil and natural gas deposits around America, companies are increasingly desperate for new pipelines to get their product to market. “We’ve so narrowly focused on Keystone that a lot of these other projects aren’t getting the scrutiny they probably need,” said Carl Weimer, executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust. He explains that as production skyrockets and companies look to cash in, no one is really in charge of it all. “We’re leaving it up to these individual companies to come up with their own solutions to figure out how to move energy and we don’t have any national policy guiding those decisions.”

According to a recent analysis of federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration data, since 1986 there have been nearly 8,000 incidents, resulting in more than 500 deaths, more than 2,300 injuries, and nearly $7 billion in damage.

Here are three of the most recent pipeline controversies emerging around the country:

1. Bluegrass Pipeline

Land owners and protesters gather on the steps of the Kentucky state capitol to protest the Bluegrass Pipeline.Land owners and protesters gather on the steps of the Kentucky state capitol to protest the Bluegrass Pipeline. CREDIT: AP Photo/Dylan Lovan 

Opposition is growing to the proposed 500-mile bluegrass pipeline, which would transport flammable natural gas liquids across Kentucky to an existing line that terminates in the Gulf. Landowners and environmentalists gathered at the state capital last week to protest the project, which they fear would threaten water supplies and safety. Residents were caught off guard by the project — landowner Stacie Meyer said she noticed survey markers going up near her property and had to search the internet and consult her neighbors to find out what they were for.

Locals are concerned the company, Williams Co., could use imminent domain to seize the land if opposition proves too strong. As the Courier-Journal reported, “Brad Slutskin, a Woodford County landowner who spoke at the rally, said the pipeline companies are threatening condemnation based on a loose interpretation of Kentucky law, and most property owners don’t have the money to mount a court challenge.” Residents opposed to the pipeline — including a group of nuns and monks who are refusing to give up their land for the project — delivered a petition with more than 5,200 signatures asking Gov. Beshear to include pipeline and eminent domain-related issues in the upcoming special legislative session, which he refused.

“Knowing a pipeline is coming through, is like waiving a red flag to the creatures of the Earth. God created Earth as our land to use not abuse,” Sister Joetta Venneman told local WAVE News.

As the gas fields north and east of Kentucky boom, the state will likely find itself in the crosshairs of many battles to come. In fact, while the fifth Kentucky county was passing a resolution opposing the Bluegrass Pipeline on Wednesday, the Courier-Journal reported that the project may already have some competition — a joint venture to convert an existing natural gas line called the Tennessee Gas Pipeline.

2. Energy East Pipeline

Milo Zeankowski-Giffin, left, and Max Griefen hold signs during a Montpelier, VT tar sands protest.Milo Zeankowski-Giffin, left, and Max Griefen hold signs during a Montpelier, VT tar sands pipeline protest. CREDIT: AP Photo/Toby Talbot 

Facing resistance in the U.S. over its Keystone XL proposal, TransCanada Corp. is moving forward with plans for another tar sands pipeline project that would carry almost as much crude as Keystone. The new pipeline, the most expensive in TransCanada’s history, would run from Alberta to the Atlantic seaboard, ending where a new deep-water marine terminal would be built to export the crude overseas. In early August, TransCanada said it received the long-term contracts for about 900,000 barrels of crude per day and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has already indicated his support for the project.

TransCanada’s proposal has been met with stiff opposition from Canadian environmentalists and native leaders — particularly in Quebec, where Premier Pauline Marois has halted natural gas exploration while last month’s deadly Lac-Megantic crude oil train explosion is still being cleaned up.

The $12 billion development plan calls for converting 1,864 miles of an existing, 55-year-old pipeline currently used for natural gas to carry the oil. Though the proposed route does not cross into the U.S., it does skirt the border with Maine. Perhaps most worrisome to residents of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, however, is that the increased shipping capacity from Alberta will impact another pipeline — the 70-year-old Portland Pipeline. Currently, the pipeline is used to ship crude into Canada but residents are concerned the flow will be reversed to bring Canadian tar sands into the U.S. As the Boston Globe explains, “this would provide Canada — whose Alberta-centered oil industry is suffering from too much supply and too little access to overseas markets — its first direct pipeline to a year-round, deep-water port.” Residents throughout New England are staunchly opposed to the region becoming a conduit for the dirtiest form of fossil fuel production, holding anti-pipeline demonstrations in Portland, while 29 Vermont communities passed resolutions banning tar sands oil from the state.

For now, residents of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont are left with little option other than waiting to see how the Energy East pipeline development may impact the Portland Pipeline. In a statement released earlier this month, the company said, “It is uncertain to us what the entire impact of this proposed project might be on crude movements and crude supplies for the East Coast. We are continuing to evaluate this recent development.”

3. Eastern Gulf Crude Access Pipeline Project

Keystone pipeline in yellow, Eastern in blue and red. Graphic credit: Paul Horn, InsideClimate NewsKeystone pipeline in yellow, Eastern in blue and red. Graphic credit: Paul Horn, InsideClimate News 

Enbridge’s proposed 774-mile pipeline would run from Illinois to Louisiana and carry oil from North Dakota’s Bakken formation, as well as Canadian tar sands. The pipeline would be capable of transporting almost as much crude as Keystone XL and, as Inside Climate News reports, will likely sail through the regulatory process because much of the pipeline is already constructed as a natural gas line.

“Converting pipelines makes [approval] easier and riskier, too,” explains Weimer. “Keystone is brand new, state of the art pipeline with its own set of problems. Enbridge on the other hand, is converting other pipelines that have already been in the ground for years — putting in new types of crude or switching natural gas to liquid on pipelines that aren’t built to today’s standards. Those old pipes being re-purposed certainly presents a new risk.”

While the Keystone decision is momentarily stalled, Eastern Gulf is just one of many new pipelines being built to ship North American oil to the Gulf Coast for refining and export. According to Inside Climate, “Enbridge plans to build thousands of miles of pipelines over the next few years, including an expansion of its Alberta Clipper pipeline from Canada to Wisconsin. If approved, that line would ship up to 880,000 barrels of Canadian crude into the United States each day, compared to the Keystone’s capacity of 830,000 barrels per day.”

Last month, all five members of Minnesota’s Public Utilities Commission approved increasing the flow of the Alberta Clipper line while refusing concerned citizens the opportunity to testify publicly. The initial expansion still awaits approval from multiple government agencies but Enbridge already has its sights set on a second expansion, which wasn’t discussed at the meeting. The protesters, including several Native American representatives, fear their communities could soon face the same devastating impacts of tar sands development being felt in Alberta. Marty Cobenais of Bemidji, part of the Indigenous Environmental Network, told the Bemidji Pioneer that the pipeline is a major issue for his Red Lake community. “This is huge,” he said. “This is in our back yard.”

A worker cleans up oil in Mayflower, AR days after a pipeline ruptured and spewed oil over lawns and roadways.A worker cleans up oil in Mayflower, AR days after a pipeline ruptured and spewed oil over lawns and roadways. CREDIT: AP Photo/Jeannie Nuss 

These fights are just three of many being waged by citizens across the country. Alabama residents, for instance, have been protesting multiple pipeline projects — including the Plains All-American oil pipeline, which would run 41 miles to Mississippi and through a section of Mobile’s drinking water supply.

Though pipeline companies are seeking to capitalize on the Lac-Megantic tragedy to tout the safety of crude transport over rail, the devastating impacts of pipeline spills are impossible to overlook. Last week, the New York Times profiled two communities in Michigan and Arkansas that are forever changed by tar sands pipeline spills. Though it’s been three years since Enbridge’s pipeline rupture that spewed more than 840,000 gallons of tar sands crude into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River, the region is far from restored. And even despite EPA’s recent order for Exxon to dredge the river, an EPA spokeswoman estimated that 1620,000 gallons of oil will remain in the Kalamazoo.

And in March, an Exxon Mobil pipeline burst, spilling an estimated 210,000 gallons of crude into a Mayflower, Arkansas neighborhood. What’s left behind is bleak: “Four months later, the neighborhood of low-slung brick homes is largely deserted, a ghostly column of empty driveways and darkened windows, the silence broken only by the groan of heavy machinery pawing at the ground as remediation continues.” As Inside Climate News has continued to report, residents are now grappling with the long-term effects of the toxic spill, including the difficult process of relocating their families and the frightnening health complications that have begun to manifest.

In addition to re-purposing old pipelines, there are several aspects of the unchecked expansion of fossil fuel pipelines across the country that has Weimer concerned. First, pipeline regulation needs to be strengthened and clarified. He explains that right now, “regulations are written in such a way that to a vast degree, it’s left up to the pipeline companies to figure out how safe their pipelines are and what to do about it.” And it’s not just oversight — planning future pipeline routes is also dictated by the companies themselves. “The way we leave it up to each company means we could have multiple pipelines from different companies moving [their products] through the same place. Each company is just trying to capitalize and make money. State and local government really hasn’t thought about it much — is unprepared — and pipelines will go into place before there are policies to guide the construction. It can really affect the way local communities may develop and often happens before the community has any sense of what they can do about it.”

Dakota oil could add risks to rail transport

Bloomberg News

WASHINGTON — Crude oil shipped by railroad from North Dakota is drawing fresh scrutiny from regulators concerned that the cargo is adding environmental and safety hazards, something that analysts say could raise costs.

The Federal Railroad Administration is investigating whether chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing are corroding rail tank cars and increasing risks. Separately, three pipeline companies including Enbridge Inc. warned regulators that North Dakota oil with too much hydrogen sulfide, which is toxic and flammable, was reaching terminals and putting workers at risk.

Until last month, safety advocates’ chief worry was spills in derailments. After tank cars blew up July 6 on a train in Quebec, investigators in Canada are considering whether the composition of the crude, which normally doesn’t explode, may have played a role in the accident that killed 47 people. The oil was from North Dakota’s Bakken shale.

“Crude historically has not been considered in the highest category of hazmat,” said Anthony Hatch, an independent analyst in New York who has tracked railroad companies for almost three decades. “The risks have been considered to be environmental, not to humans. Perhaps Bakken crude should be considered in a higher category.”

The cost of added safety measures, such as tighter rail-car specifications that would make obsolete some current models, may become an issue if oil prices fall, according to Kevin Book, managing director at ClearView Energy Partners, a Washington-based policy-analysis firm.

“The solution to rail safety issues looks like unanticipated costs, whether, it be rail car investments or new safety protocols,” Book said.

Such costs are less likely to slow production when is oil trading for $100 or more per barrel, Book said. “At $75 per barrel, it could be a big deal,” he said. Crude oil futures have traded higher than $100 a barrel since July, and are more than $90 a barrel since late April.

North Dakota is the nation’s second-biggest oil-producing state, with more than 790,000 barrels a day this year up from from about 150,000 barrels in 2008. Railroads move 75 percent of the state’s crude, including the load of more than 70 cars that derailed and exploded last month in Lac-Megantic, Quebec.

Canadian regulators are testing the composition of crude from the wrecked Montreal Maine & Atlantic Railway Ltd. freight train. A question they say they’re asking is why the derailment led to such an intense inferno, which regulators have called “abnormal.” They visited North Dakota as part of their review, said Chris Krepski, a spokesman for the Transportation Safety Board of Canada.

“We did take samples from the tank cars to get a better understanding of what was actually carried in them and verifying that against the shipping documents,” Krepski said. “It’s safe to say we’re looking at everything.

Montreal, Maine & Atlantic said last week it was forced to file for bankruptcy because of potential liability in the crash.

Much of North Dakota’s production relies on hydraulic fracturing or fracking, a technique in which millions of gallons of chemically treated water and sand are forced underground to shatter rock and free trapped oil. Highly corrosive hydrochloric acid is widely used to extract oil in the state, according to a 2011 report from the Society of Petroleum Engineers.

In a July 29 letter to the American Petroleum Institute, a Washington-based lobbying and standards-setting group for the oil and gas industry, the railway administration said it found increasing cases of damage to tanker cars’ interior surfaces. A possible cause is contamination of crude by materials used in fracking, according to the letter.

“If the hydrochloric acid is carried with the oil into rail cars, corrosion can be an issue,” said Andy Lipow, president of Houston-based Lipow Oil Associates.

Shippers need to know the properties of the oil to ensure that it’s transported in tankers equipped to handle the cargo, according to the rail agency’s letter. Because information provided to railroads on the properties of oil is not gathered from tests, the agency said it “can only speculate” as to the number of cars in violation of hazardous-materials regulations.

Investigating whether the chemical composition of Bakken oil makes it more likely to corrode tank cars is reasonable, said Peter Goelz, a former National Transportation Safety Board managing director who’s now a senior vice president with O’Neill and Associates in Washington.

The Quebec accident also revived a debate over the type of cars used to haul oil. For years, regulators and watchdogs have sought improvements to a common car design shown to be susceptible to rupture when derailed. The NTSB estimates that 69 percent of today’s rail tank-car fleet has “a high incidence of tank failure during accidents,” Chairman Deborah Hersman wrote last year. The agency recommendeds thicker shells and other modifications to strengthen the cars.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., this week called on U.S. regulators to phase out the older cars, known as DOT-111s, saying they’ve contributed to spills of hazardous materials.

“The DOT-111 tank car has proven particularly prone to spills, tears and fires in the event of a derailment, and it’s simply unacceptable for New York’s communities along the rail lines to face that risk when we know thicker, tougher cars could keep us safer,” Schumer said.

The rail industry is fighting a proposal to retrofit existing cars, saying it could cost as much as $1 billion.

Shippers also must account for hydrogen sulfide, a highly flammable toxic gas that at some wells is a byproduct of oil, to properly classify oil for transport. The Bakken oil field generally produces lighter oil with little or no hydrogen sulfide, though at times, crudes with different grades are mixed for shipping, said John Harju, associate director for research at the University of North Dakota Energy and Environmental Research Center, and co-author of the Society of Petroleum Engineers report on the Bakken reservoir.

“You see little blender facilities popping up all over the place along pipelines and rails,” Harju said.

In June, Enbridge won an emergency order to reject oil with high hydrogen-sulfide levels from its system after telling the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that it found dangerous levels of the compound at a rail terminal in Berthold, N.D. In addition to being highly flammable, hydrogen sulfide in the air is an irritant and a chemical asphyxiant that can alter both oxygen utilization and the central nervous system, according to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

“We did discover that some of the crude coming into the system had much higher levels of hydrogen sulfide than we felt was safe for our employees,” said Katie Haarsager, an Enbridge spokeswoman. “Some blending may not have been up to levels in the past.”

Enbridge won FERC’s permission to refuse delivery of any oil with hydrogen sulfide that exceeded 5 parts per million, half the minimum exposure recommended by federal regulators. In a May 5 test, Calgary-based Enbridge, which owns and operates a 970-mile pipeline from Plentywood, Montana, to Clearbrook, Minn., found levels as high as 1,200 parts per million at its Berthold terminal “that could cause death, or serious injuries,” according to the company’s FERC filing.

Two other pipeline operators, Tesoro Corp. and the closely held True companies, which operates the Belle Fourche and Bridger pipelines in North Dakota, also found high levels of hydrogen sulfide in crude shipments. The FERC approved Tesoro’s request to reject oil with hydrogen sulfide at more than 5 parts per million effective Jan. 1. True companies was allowed to turn away crude with more than 10 parts per million of hydrogen sulfide effective April 1

True, based in Casper, Wyo., sent a notice to its Belle Fourche and Bridger customers in January warning that high levels of hydrogen sulfide “materially affected the common stream and created safety hazards at certain delivery locations.

North Dakota regulators say hydrogen sulfide is prevalent in oil wells in some areas and field inspectors are required to carry hydrogen-sulfide monitors.

“The fact that there were explosions, and crude oil is not supposed to explode, raises a lot of suspicions as to whether there were other chemicals and so on added to oil in the process before the shipment,” said Edward Burkhardt, chief executive officer of Rail World Inc., which owns the Montreal and Maine railway.

While derailments of trains hauling crude can create environmental messes, oil doesn’t usually ignite unless exposed to extreme heat, said Lloyd Burton, professor of environmental policy at the University of Colorado in Denver. Gasoline, refined from crude oil, is more more volatile.

“Crude oil doesn’t usually explode and burn with the ferocity that this train did,” Burton said.