Study finds oil from BP spill impedes fish’s swimming

A ship floats amongst a sea of spilled oil in the Gulf of Mexico after the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster. By kris krüg via Wikimedia Commons

A ship floats amongst a sea of spilled oil in the Gulf of Mexico after the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster. By kris krüg via Wikimedia Commons

By JENNY STALETOVICH, The Miami Herald

MIAMI — In a lab on Virginia Key, a group of baby fish are being put through their paces on a tiny fish treadmill.

The inch-long mahi-mahi, being used as part of a study to assess damage caused by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that spread crude across the Gulf of Mexico for 87 days in 2010, were exposed when they were embryos to oil collected during the cleanup. Now, at 25 days old, the oil is doing exactly what scientists suspected it would do: hamper the swimming of one of the ocean’s fastest fish.

And significantly so. Young mahi usually swim at a rate of five body lengths per second. For perspective, imagine a 6-foot man swimming 30 feet in a second. The fish, struggling against a current in a little tube attached to a propeller called a swim tunnel, can only muster three body lengths.

For a fish that needs speed to survive, this could mean bad news. Mahi, one of the most popular fish on menus, is already heavily fished. So losing a generation to an oil spill could take a toll. It also suggests that other fish suffered from the spill.

“Any life form is optimized compromise,” Martin Grosell, one of the study’s authors, said as a way of explaining physiology perfectly evolved to maximize speed. And if you mess with that treaty of parts, he said, “you’re going to increase its vulnerability.”

The treadmill study marks the second in recent months by the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science that has found that oil from the largest spill in U.S. history damages young pelagic fish, the large predators found in the open ocean. In March, UM researchers working with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists determined that the BP oil also damaged the hearts of tuna embryos, a condition that likely killed them in the wild.

Both studies – disputed by BP – are worrisome because tuna, whose numbers have dropped by as much as 75 percent in the last 40 years, and mahi began their spring spawning just as the spill occurred, sending fragile embryos across warm surface waters and into a patchwork of oil slicks that covered more than six square miles.

These newest findings, published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, build on that earlier report by looking at fish as they age.

BP says the study is invalid because, according to the company, the tests used concentrations of oil not found in the Gulf during or after the spill. Researchers also failed to look at adult fish, spokesman Jason Ryan said in a statement.

“The tests only looked at impacts to fish under one year of age,” he said. “Even if there had been an effect on a single-year class of such fish, the study does not provide any evidence to show that an effect on that group of fish would have had a population-level impact.”

After the spill, NOAA began enlisting scientists to investigate the damage it caused – so far, the studies range from the acoustic damage done to endangered sperm whales to oil in fiddler crabs. For pelagic fish, which are particularly sensitive to changes in their near-constant deep-water environment, scientists want to know how much oil it takes to affect the fish and what those effects are.

To test the mahi, researcher Ed Mager first mixed oil from the spill and seawater in a Waring blender at concentrations replicating the spill. He exposed one group of embryos to the mix for two days and then raised them in clean seawater. Another group was raised in clean water and exposed to oil when they reached about 25 days.

Mager also wanted to ensure that no other factors stressed their performance. Like all babies, the mahi startle easily. So he wrapped the treadmill – a clear, four-inch swim tunnel outfitted with a propeller and immersed in a two-foot tank – in black plastic. Mager, who studied deadly respiratory viruses in premature human babies before he switched to fish, then curtained off the area and monitored his little subjects with a video camera.

Mahi are carnivores and foragers, so they swim fast. But when he turned on the treadmill, Mager was surprised to see that the outwardly healthy fish swam much slower. The ones exposed as embryos swam 37 percent slower. Those exposed as juveniles dropped 22 percent.

Because they are so sensitive to change, pelagic fish – and particularly fragile embryos and juveniles – can act as a kind of canary in a coal mine. So the information that Mager and the team have collected for the study, one of several ongoing at the school, will be fed to modelers to determine a more expansive view of the ecosystem after the spill and help figure out the limits for how much oil it can tolerate before damage happens.

“We’ll be a little closer to knowing what to look for and how bad when, I cynically say, the next spill happens. Because it will,” Grosell said.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/06/24/4197992/study-finds-oil-from-bp-spill.html#storylink=cpy

Grain Car Derailment Could Have Been Oil: Quinault Raise Alarm Again

KXRO: If this grain were oil…. The third train-car derailment in as many weeks has Pacific Northwest tribes that oppose oil-rail transport on edge.

KXRO
: If this grain were oil…. The third train-car derailment in as many weeks has Pacific Northwest tribes that oppose oil-rail transport on edge.

 

Indian Country Today

 

It has happened again, this time not with oil but with grain.

However, the Quinault Nation pointed out on May 16, the derailment of a grain train in Grays Harbor County is all the affirmation needed to show that transporting something more hazardous, namely oil, in this manner has too much chance of ending badly.

“Another train derailment in Grays Harbor County? Three in three weeks? Rails ripped up, Cars tipped over. Cargo spilled out,” said Quinault Indian Nation President Fawn Sharp in a statement. “That cargo may have been grain this morning, but it might just as well have been oil, and that would have been disastrous.”

Sharp was alluding to a May 15 incident in which seven cars carrying grain tipped over when 11 cars on the train they were part of derailed. It was the third such occurrence in as many weeks on the network of tracks operated by Puget Sound & Pacific Railway in the Grays Harbor area, the Quinault statement said. This came right on the heels of two earlier derailments—one on April 29, when a grain car tipped over in Aberdeen, and another on May 9 in east Aberdeen, when some cars came off their tracks, the Quinault said.

The cargo was different, but the propensity of train cars to derail no matter what they were carrying says that transporting oil via this method is not safe, the Quinault said. Around the country and in Canada, derailments of trains bearing crude oil, much of it from oil sands and deemed especially flammable, have resulted in destruction and even death.

RELATED: Exploded Quebec Oil Train Was Bringing Crude From North Dakota’s Bakken to New Brunswick Refineries

Lynchburg Oil Train Explosion Refuels Rail-Terminal Opposition in Northwest

However, Puget Sound & Pacific Railway, a division of Genessee & Wyoming, said it was investigating the cause of the derailment.

“This series of minor derailments is a highly unusual, unacceptable occurrence and subject to a rigorous investigation,” company spokesperson Michael Williams, Genesee & Wyoming, told radio station KXRO on May 16. “The first two derailments were caused by localized failure of railroad ties that were saturated with moisture from recent heavy rains. Other locations experiencing this issue have been identified and are being corrected prior to receiving another train. The cause of yesterday’s derailment is still being determined.”

Several tribes in the Northwest are opposing railroad terminals in or near their territory that would handle oil and coal. Oil traffic in particular has troubled the Quinault.

“Now, one-two-three, it’s as easy as that. Any argument in favor of bringing Big Oil into our region has been knocked out cold,” said Sharp in the statement. “As we have consistently stated, our people and our treaty-protected natural resources are jeopardized by these oil shipments. This danger is real. We have invested millions of dollars to protect and restore the ecological integrity of our region, and we will not allow Big Oil to destroy it.”

 

Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2014/05/19/grain-car-derailment-could-have-been-oil-quinault-raise-alarm-again-154940

Being Frank: Keep Big Oil Out of Grays Harbor

Billy Frank

Billy Frank

By Billy Frank, Jr., Chairman, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission

OLYMPIA – Our environment, health, safety and communities are at risk from decisions being made now to transport and export trainloads of coal and oil through western Washington.

If coal export terminals proposed for Cherry Point near Bellingham, and Longview on the Columbia River are approved, hundreds of trains and barges would run from Montana and Wyoming every day, spreading coal dust along the way. That same coal will continue to pollute our world when it is burned in China and other countries thousands of miles away.

Now that threat is joined by proposals to use mile-long crude oil trains to feed massive new oil terminals in Grays Harbor.  Safety is a huge concern. Since 2008 nearly a dozen oil trains have been derailed in the U.S.  In December, a fire burned for over 24 hours after a 106-car train carrying crude oil collided with a grain train in North Dakota. In July, an oil train accident killed 47 people and leaked an estimated 1.5 million gallons of oil in Quebec, Canada.

It’s clear that crude oil can be explosive and the tankers used to transport it by rail are simply unsafe. These oil trains are an accident waiting to happen to any town along the route from the oil fields of the Midwest to the shores of western Washington.

Plans for shipping crude oil from Grays Harbor also include dredging the Chehalis River estuary, which will damage habitat needed by fish, shellfish and birds.  Large numbers of huge tanker ships moving in and out of the harbor would interfere with Indian and non-Indian fisheries and other vessel traffic.

The few jobs that the transport and export of coal and oil offer would come at the cost of catastrophic damage to our environment for years. We would have to live with that damage for many years. Everyone knows that oil and water don’t mix, and neither do oil and fish, oil and wildlife, or oil and just about everything else. It’s not a matter of whetherspills will happen, it’s a matter of when.

Thankfully, the Quinault Indian Nation is taking a stand. “The history of oil spills provides ample, devastating evidence that there are no reasonable conditions under which these proposed terminal projects should proceed,” says my friend, Fawn Sharp, president of the Quinault Indian Nation. “We oppose oil in Grays Harbor.  This is a fight we can’t afford to lose.  We’re in it to win. Our fishing, hunting and gathering rights are being jeopardized by the immediate and future impacts of these proposed developments.”

Right now public hearings are being held and Environmental Impact Statements are being developed for these oil export schemes. You can send comments to Maia Bellon, Director of the Department of Ecology, 300 Desmond Drive, Lacey, WA 98503-1274.

I urge you to join the Quinault Indian Nation and the many others who are battling Big Oil on this issue. Email ProtectOurFuture@quinault.org or more information.

“We have a responsibility to protect the land and water for the generations to come. Together, we can build a sustainable economy without sacrificing our environment,” says Sharp.

She’s right.

Wyoming tribes start getting federal payments

By Benjamin Storrow, Casper-Star Tribune

James C'Hair shows settlement checks from the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians received by him and his wife Wednesday outside Atlantic City Federal Credit Union in Riverton.Ryan Dorgan | Star-Tribune

James C’Hair shows settlement checks from the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians received by him and his wife Wednesday outside Atlantic City Federal Credit Union in Riverton.
Ryan Dorgan | Star-Tribune

LANDER, Wyo. (AP) – The first installment in a $157 million federal settlement began to pour into the Wind River Indian Reservation this week, as members of the Northern Arapaho Tribe started receiving $6,300 checks in the mail.

The impact of the cash infusion was almost immediately evident on the reservation and in surrounding communities, where many tribal members went to deposit their checks.

Riverton and Lander, both straddling the reservation border, were bustling. Banks saw long lines. Car dealerships and auto parts stores reported brisk business. And law enforcement in both communities was highly visible, posting cruisers at banks in what authorities said was an effort to protect tribal members cashing checks from would-be assailants.

Many tribal members welcomed the injection of money into a reservation long beset by poverty. Unemployment there is almost double the state average, while average family income lags far behind state and national standards.

But they also expressed trepidation that the money could lead to an increase in crime, and they worried that many tribal members might squander the once-in-a-lifetime payday.

“People need to be smart and budget their money,’’ said Randee Iron Cloud, of Ethete, who was with her husband, Norman, at the Atlantic City Federal Credit Union in Lander. “They need to think about the needs of the kids above all else.’’

The couple said they planned to use the money to pay down debt on their car and to take their five children on a trip to Albuquerque.

The settlement stems from a 1970s lawsuit brought by the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes against the federal government for its failure to properly collect mineral royalties from oil and gas development on tribal lands.

The total settlement is worth $157 million and will be split evenly between Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribal members.

Of the total, $10 million will be used to repair environmental degradation resulting from oil and gas operations.

Federal law requires that 85 percent of Native American mineral royalties be paid to individual tribal members, with the remaining 15 percent going to the tribes themselves.

The distributions to individual members varies by tribe, as the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone have different-sized membership rolls. Northern Arapaho members will receive $6,300 each, while Eastern Shoshone members are to receive $15,000. Eastern Shoshone members are expected to receive their checks next week.

Overton Sankey, who works at a local Head Start, said most tribal members have long prepared to receive their checks and made plans to save the money or use it for bigger purchases like cars.

While Sankey is not a tribal member, his wife is, and she received a check. The couple intend to use the money for home repairs, but not before going on a trip.

“We haven’t had a vacation in years,’’ Sankey said while playing the slots at the Wind River Casino. “We’re going to work on the house when we get back.’’

Businesses were bustling in Lander and Riverton. A parade of cars for sale lined U.S. Highway 287 approaching the Atlantic City Federal Credit Union in Lander. Inside the bank, Vice President of Member Services Kyleen West said the credit union had seen a steady stream of customers.

The bank was cashing checks from members and nonmembers alike. It would continue to do so until it ran out of money. A first pot of cash set aside to accommodate the settlements would likely be exhausted, West said, noting that a second installment was also due to arrive to meet the second round of checks.

As of midday Wednesday, all was going smoothly, she said. Local banks worked with the tribes in advance to encourage members to create bank accounts where they could deposit money. The bank has seen a rise in the number of new accounts as a result, she said.

“I have been very pleased with the way the tribes have worked with the banking industry, local law enforcement and the community,’’ West said.

In Riverton, Bobbi Higgs, manager of an O’Reilly Auto Parts, said the store was busier Wednesday than it is on strong Saturdays. Six cars for sale were stationed in the parking lot outside, an oddity in its own right, she said. Many of the new car owners then came into the store to buy parts, Higgs added.

“Everyone is selling what they can,’’ she said. In the adjacent Ace Hardware parking lot, a relatively new 35-foot camper sold quickly Wednesday morning, she said.

Law enforcement was ubiquitous in both communities. Police cars were parked outside banks, and officers stood by the doors.

Police officers from around the state were called in to help. Cruisers from Cody, Jackson and Green River were stationed in front of banks in Lander, while a trailer bearing the name of the Sweetwater County bomb squad helped form a temporary command center outside Atlantic City Federal Credit Union.

Lander Police Chief Jim Carey said the settlement had been well publicized, and authorities worried about outsiders who might potentially prey on tribal members cashing their checks.

“We want to send a message that anyone who wants to do violence to our citizens won’t be allowed to,’’ Carey said. “Our mission today is to prevent violent crime and make sure they can get their checks in a safe manner.’’
Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com

Tribes, BIA and BLM collaborate on oil, gas operations

By The Ranger staff reports

The Arapaho and Shoshone tribes and the Department of the Interior, through the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Bureau of Land Management, signed a memorandum of understanding Feb. 25 in Fort Washakie.

Through the MOU, the parties said they will engage in a cooperative environmental program to promote compliance on oil and gas properties by lessees and operators on the Wind River Indian Reservation.

“This MOU is a good opportunity for all of us to start fresh, to be on the same page and to work toward the same goals,” said BIA acting Rocky Mountain regional director Darryl LaCounte.

Specifically, the MOU outlines a process and timelines for the parties to:

– review all ongoing oil and gas operations on the reservation with tribal ownership interest to identify actual or potential adverse environmental effects;

– identify prospective sources of federal funding to the tribes to support monitoring, inspection and enforcement;

– develop an environmental plan for oil and gas operations; and

– formalize a structure for future communications between the parties regarding environmental concerns arising from oil and gas operations.

“We look forward to working collaboratively with the Arapaho and Shoshone tribes, as well as with the BIA, to manage oil and gas activities on the Wind River Indian Reservation,” said BLM Wyoming state director Don Simpson.

For more information, call BIA realty officer Marietta Shortbull at 332-4639 or BLM resource adviser Stuart Cerovski at 332-8400.

Government Push for Oil Drives Ecuadorian Tribes to War

Typically, due to a lack of direct representation and a diminished voting base, indigenous groups worldwide are subject to exploitation and a corruption of their rights.

Ecuador Oil Protest

An indigenous woman confronts police guarding the venue where Ecuadorian government officials were meeting with oil company representatives in Quito, Ecuador, Thursday Nov. 28, 2013. Ecuador is looking for private investment to explore oil drilling in its Amazon region and received three bids for oil licensing Wednesday. Indigenous groups from the area are opposed to the government plan. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

By Frederick Reese, Mint Press News

Ecuador’s broken promise to not drill for oil in the territory of several of the nation’s indigenous people has touched off a tribal war and nearly universal condemnation from the international community.

Ecuador, a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, finds itself forced to find new oil sources to satisfy the nation’s ballooning debt to China. The government’s drilling in Yasuni National Park, one of the world’s most ecologically fragile, has been called inexcusable and reckless by locals for the damage it is causing.

Yasuni National Park is home to many species of flora and fauna that exist nowhere else in the world and to several indigenous tribes that have had no contact to the outside world.

A generation ago, the Waorani (also known as the Huaorani, the Waos or the Waodani) — a culturally-isolated indigenous group, started to find its territory challenged by illegal logging. The situation was made worse by American missionaries who worked to moved the Waorani away from its hunting and gathering traditional existence in the rainforest to permanent villages, such as Yawepare, where the Waorani is forced to live in makeshift shacks with no running water or electricity.

This missionary intervention, coordinated by the Ecuadorian government — cleared large blocks of land around the Auca Road for oil extraction. This has led to major contamination of the drilling sites, due to oil and chemical spills under Texaco management. Chevron, which acquired Texaco, was sued by the Yasuni tribes and was ordered to pay $18 billion in 2011 in restitution. Chevron has rejected the judgment and, as Chevron has no active assets in Ecuador, cannot be forced to pay.

This has created a situation in which those who desperately wish to be left alone have grown dangerously even more desperate. The Taromenane, a voluntarily isolated group that violently resisted the missionaries’ attempt to “civilize” them have allegedly increased its attacks on neighboring tribes. While inter-tribal feuds have existed for generations, they have accelerated with the increased presence of outsiders on its tribal lands.

In one cited example, more than 20 Taromenane, mostly women and children, were killed by the Waorani after a Waorani elder and his wife were allegedly killed by the Taromenane. This happened under the supposed protection of the Ecuadorian government. Two Taromenane girls were kidnapped by the Waorani; Ecuadorian officials were only able to recover the eldest girl, with the youngest still in Waorani custody. According to the tribes involved, this is recognized as being in compliance with their traditional mode of justice.

“I protest because it is my home,” said Alicia Cahuiya, a Waorani leader who was invited to speak to the National Assembly after the Assembly voted to open drilling in the Yasuni National Forest.

After Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa won re-election in March, he proposed the opening of drilling in the Yasuni but offered to postpone to leave the oil in the ground if the international community donated the $3.6 billion his country would have lost in revenue. In August, Correa abandoned this plan when only $17 million was donated.

“Yes, there is oil there, but I do not agree with the oil exploitation. We should be consulted about Yasuní. Our elders do not agree with any of this,” Cahuiya said. “Why are the Taromenane tribe people being killed fighting the Huaorani? Because you opened a road into the jungle! We don’t want any of that! Let us live like Waoranis. That is what we want!”

Typically, due to a lack of direct representation and a diminished voting base, indigenous groups worldwide are subject to exploitation and a corruption of their rights. Due to this, many indigenous groups have been hit with rampant poverty, lack of essential services and denial of legal access and protection.

Megaloads go to court

Lawsuit questions whether transport is more good than harm

By George Plaven, East Oregonian

PENDLETON, Ore. — A third and final shipment of massive oil refinery equipment is bound for Canada after departing the Port of Umatilla earlier this week. But while the convoy lumbers south on Highway 395, opponents representing environmental and tribal concerns filed a petition in Marion County Circuit Court that would keep future loads off the road without increased public input.

Petitioners Peter Goodman, with the nonprofit organization Act on Climate, and Carl Sampson, headman-chief of the Walla Walla Tribe, allege the Oregon Department of Transportation didn’t properly consider public interest when permitting the loads hauled by Hillsboro trucking company Omega Morgan.

State law allows ODOT to issue variance permits for oversize loads “if it determines the public interests will be served.” Yet the department declined to hold public hearings, provide notice or allow any opportunity for comments, according to the petition.

If the petitioners succeed, a judge would order ODOT to set aside permits for megaloads until determining actual public interest. Goodman and Sampson are also asking for a permanent injunction against new variance permits until the department establishes rules for public involvement.

Patrick Cooney, ODOT communications director, did not discuss litigation but said the agency issues 100,000 permits every year. In broad terms, public interest is served by allowing movement of freight and commerce across the state, he said.

“We do that in such a manner that there’s no damage caused to the system by oversize loads,” Cooney said.

The petitioners, however, claim it is not enough to find something in the public interest by only examining potential damage to highways. It requires that, overall, more good than harm is done as a result of the loads.

Megaloads will eventually supply the tar sands of Alberta, Canada with machinery necessary to extract and ship oil, Goodman said, leading to global climate change.

“The cargo is so damaging to the environment,” he said. “The end result for climate change is really disastrous.”

At approximately 400 feet long, 22 feet wide and weighing more than 900,000 pounds, the megaloads take up both lanes on two-lane highways and are too big to fit under interstate bridges. The route being used now instead runs indirectly south into the John Day Valley and east toward Homedale, Idaho, before cutting back north through Montana and into Canada.

The loads travel approximately 35 mph, and are not permitted to drive in hazardous weather. Numerous delays have already slowed the first two shipments, which Omega Morgan began moving in December.

Protesters also held several demonstrations throughout the region, resulting in some arrests.

In addition to increased carbon emissions from tar sands oil, members of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation oppose megaloads on their ceded territory.

Sampson — known ceremonially in the Walla Walla Tribe as Peo Peo Mox Mox, or Chief Yellowbird — asked how decades of government-to-government relations can simply be ignored to accommodate these loads in his affidavit to the court.

“Help me understand why we, the people of this land, have not had voice on such an important matter,” Sampson said. “The simple passage of these loads alone is an affront to the traditional values and ecological integrity of the lands I have been stood up by my people to protect. We have a strong tribal culture that will suffer irreparable damage if the megaload is not stopped.”

Omega Morgan project manager Erik Zander has said there is no plan to use the route as a long-term industrial corridor through Oregon. Goodman said they remain concerned about the possibility, especially as oil sands deposits are developed in Utah.

That’s why the public needs a voice in the ODOT permitting process, he said.

“We feel the citizens of Oregon should have a say,” Goodman said. “It is not worth risking planetary climate chaos for profit for relatively few people.”

_ Read more on eastoregonian.com. Contact George Plaven at gplaven@eastoregonian.com or 541-564-4547.

Train carrying oil derails, explodes in Alabama

Derailment is latest in string of incidents as US increasingly relies on rail to transport oil

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Smoke rises from derailed train cars in western Alabama on Nov. 8, 2013.WBMA via Reuters

 

Source: Climate Connection

A 90-car train carrying crude oil derailed in western Alabama on Friday, causing flames to burst hundreds of feet into the air.

The train was heading from the oil boomtowns of North Dakota to a Shell chemical plant near Mobile, Alabama. Unlike in recent oil train derailments, there were no reports of injuries or deaths. But the incident was another reminder of the dangers of North America’s increased reliance on a patchwork of railroads used to transport billions of gallons of newly discovered oil across the United States and Canada.

Concern had already been raised after a July accident in Lac-Megantic, Canada, in which 47 people were killed.

In Alabama on Friday, 20 of the train’s cars derailed, throwing flames 300 feet into the air. Those cars were being left to burn down, which could take up to 24 hours, according to the train owner, Genesee & Wyoming.

If full, the train, which passes near schools and crosses rivers in the area, could hold up to 65,000 barrels of crude oil.

It was not initially clear what caused Friday’s accident in Pickens County, Alabama. The train was being driven by two engineers, both unharmed, officials said.

The accident happened in a wetlands area which eventually feeds into the Tombigbee River, according to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management. Booms were placed in the wetlands to contain the spilled oil.

Accidents involving oil being transported via train have become more common as oil production has dramatically increased in places like North Dakota and Canada. That has led to flurry of debate over how to best transport the highly-flammable oils, with some advocating for an increased use of pipelines, and others arguing that rail systems make for more environmentally secure transport.

The East and West coasts in particular turned to rail years ago to draw in U.S. and Canadian crude. With no major oil pipelines in operation, or even planned, rail allowed them to tap into the burgeoning shale market.

In the last three months, crude-by-rail shipments rose 44 percent from the previous year to 93,312 carloads, equivalent to about 740,000 barrels per day or almost one tenth of U.S. production.

The practice shows no sign of slowing down. Analysts expect up to 40 times more oil to be transported by trains in the next five years.

While many are concerned, the alternatives for transporting vast amounts of oil don’t seem to please activists and safety experts either. Environmentalists vehemently opposed the Keystone XL pipeline, one of the biggest proposed pipelines in the country.

And research shows that pipelines, if they leak, can spill much more oil than trains do.

The most recent round of controversy over transporting oil by freight started over the summer when a train derailed in Lac-Megantic.

That incident, which the operator Montreal Maine & Atlantic blamed on a train engineer not applying enough brakes on an incline, fueled a drive for tougher standards for oil rail shipments.

Since then, there have been several new regulations proposed for oil-by-freight operations, including better labeling for what’s contained in each train, but nothing permanent has been signed into law.

Blackfeet Tribal Council says energy leases on religious site cancelled

David Murray, Great Falls Tribune

The Blackfeet Tribal Business Council issued a news release Wednesday stating proposed oil and gas leases near Chief Mountain have been canceled. The mountain, located near the Canadian border and on the boundary between the Blackfeet Indian Reservation and Glacier National Park, is considered sacred by many of the Blackfeet people.

“The current proposed leases by Nations Energy, which are the subject of so much misinformation, were canceled on July 24, 2013 due to nonpayment by the company,” the tribal council news release states. “The intention of such leases was to explore an area of the reservation which is at least two miles from Chief Mountain and at least one half mile from the mandated buffer zone.”

The tribal council’s announcement comes three days prior to a planned protest in opposition to oil and gas development at the site. Reports that the council had approved exploration leases at Chief Mountain became public last week after a conservation activist posted lease documents purportedly obtained from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) on his web site.

Included within those documents is a resolution signed by council chairman Willie Sharp, Jr. and acting council secretary Roger “Sassy” Running Crane reaffirming a prior resolution from January 3, 2013. The resolution approves the mineral lease development of 4,000 acres of tribal land by Nations Energy, LLC, with three wells to be developed within a five year primary term, the first to be drilled within 18-months of the lease signing.

Publication of these documents prompted a petition drive in opposition to the development, which had gathered more than 2,200 signatures by Wednesday afternoon.

The Blackfeet Tribal Business Council’s news release notes that as far back as 1982, nontribal people were prohibited from making incursions into a one mile buffer zone around the base of Chief Mountain, and that this protection was reaffirmed by tribal council action in 1992.

“The Blackfeet Tribal Business Council has always considered Chief Mountain as one of the most sacred sites on the Blackfeet Reservation,” the news release states. “This area was for spiritual use of the Blackfeet people only. This protection continues to this day and nothing has or will disturb this area, including any oil and gas development.”

It continues on to state that even if the agreement with Nations Energy had advanced to the drilling of wells, the tribe would have first had to complete an environmental and cultural resources study to see if the proposed wells would impact any Blackfeet cultural resources.

“However, since the leases no longer exist, this is not an issue,” the news release concludes.

The tribal council goes on reassert its “absolute right to develop its own resources on its own land.”

“The council is clear in its purpose to create a better economic environment for its people who currently suffer some of the highest rates of poverty and unemployment in the United States,” the news release states. “With that responsibility to better the lives of its people, however, comes the absolute mandate to do no harm to the tribe’s cultural sites, traditions and resources, including water. The two duties go hand-in-hand and this council will follow its oath and the Blackfeet Constitution to protect and defend its land and to responsibly develop its many and valuable resources.”

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.