Monday, November 04, 2013


If you happen to be the sort of person who just never gets out much, you will be interested to know the environmental crisis is coming to your house, and you can just go out in your yard and join in with the multitudes fighting to save the planet from disaster.  I'm not kidding.

Let's chat for a moment about something called the Flanagan South Pipeline Project which Enbridge Energy Company is currently construction.  The pipeline, 36 inches in diameter, will traverse 600 miles across Illinois, Missouri, Kansas and on into Oklahoma (a much smaller pipeline, the Spearhead pipeline, already runs the course).  The new pipeline will carry heavy Canadian crude,  initially 600,000 barrels per day,   primarily from Canada’s tar sands region in Alberta. Light crude from the Bakken Formation in Montana and North Dakota could also flow through it. 

The Flanagan south line will link the Flanagan oil terminal an hour and a half southwest of Chicago with a crude oil hub at Cushing, Okla. From there, other pipelines can move oil south to the nation’s refining capital on the Texas coast.  However, as the St. Louis Post Dispatch reports, you ain't seen nothing yet:

At $2.6 billion, the project is enormous in its own right. But it represents just a piece of Enbridge’s broader plans to expand capacity for moving hundreds of thousands of additional barrels of oil a day from western Canada’s tar sands and the Bakken formation in the northern Great Plains to Gulf Coast refineries where it can be made into gasoline, diesel and chemicals.

Another Enbridge expansion, the Southern Access Extension, would connect the same Flanagan terminal with a storage hub 165 miles to the south in Patoka, Ill., about 75 miles east of St. Louis. Enbridge is also working with another company to develop a separate oil pipeline from Patoka to the Louisiana coast by converting parts of an existing natural gas pipeline.

Where is the outrage over the dangers this pipeline will create?  Did I mention that the permitting process being used does not even require a comprehensive environmental analysis or allow for public input?  Until very recently, very few people even knew it existed. 

A reporter with St. Louis Public Radio says only a few people she spoke with in Quincy, Illinois had a clue about the project.

 Doug Hayes a lawyer for the Sierra club says, “A lot of the people we’ve talked to along the pipeline route have been pretty surprised to learn there’s a pipeline three quarters the size of Keystone XL in their backyard.”  

Kind of hard to get upset over what you don't know is there.

Hayes told the Post Dispatch:

...the use of Nationwide Permit 12 was improper for the Flanagan South Pipeline and violates the intent of the Clean Water Act by treating each of the pipeline’s 2,000 or so stream and river crossings as individual projects.

There is more.  NPR reports:

Despite similarities between the Enbridge and TransCanada projects, Flanagan South has received far less national opposition than Keystone.

This is, in part, because Enbridge is building its 5,000 miles of new and expanded pipelines in segments. Most are domestic ― like Flanagan South ― and have less stringent permitting requirements.

Green Oklahoma puts it this way:

Like with the southern route of the Keystone XL, the part that goes through Oklahoma, the Flanagan South doesn’t cross an international border. This means it doesn’t require State Department approval. Enbridge is trying to use a regulatory shortcut known as Nationwide Permit 12 to prevent the kind of protest happening with the Keystone XL, by getting the pipeline in the ground before the opposition starts.

 Permit 12 allows for expedited approval with little to no oversight or public in put.

Like Israeli settlements, Enbridge is creating facts on the ground. 

The Post Dispatch looked further and found:

In Missouri alone, Flanagan South construction is estimated to “permanently and temporarily impact approximately 62,840 linear feet of stream equaling an area of 24.91 acres and approximately 38.23 acres of wetland,” the Missouri Department of Natural Resources said in a letter to Enbridge in April. The pipeline would also cross eight streams that already fail to meet federal Clean Water Act standards.

Lorin Crandall of the Missouri Coalition for the Environment said many of the water crossings in Missouri are also sources of drinking water, a reason why people across the state — not just landowners along the pipeline route — should be concerned about the Flanagan South project.

That’s especially true given that Enbridge is the same company responsible for the 2010 spill in Michigan that released 840,000 gallons of diluted bitumen into the Kalamazoo River. Diluted bitumen is a mix of heavy Canadian crude oil mixed with chemicals that allow it to flow through pipelines. Three years later, the cleanup from the disaster still isn’t complete. 

A locally organized group in Bates and Cass County Missouri says their main concern with the project is  with,

...the possible impacts on water quality and the public health. The proposed pipeline route crosses the South Grand River just North of Archie, within one mile of the City of Archie’s water intake pump on the Grand. Adrian’s water intake pump is another mile downriver.

Clearly, a pipeline spill in this vicinity would be damaging to both communities and to the many farmers and rural residents that share water with these towns through our rural water districts.

We’ve been talking with experts and attempting to determine the risks of such a spill. It turns out that spill risks are very high because the substance that would be coming through the pipeline is highly toxic, corrosive, abrasive and conducive to spills. The pipeline would be carrying diluted bitumen. Bitumen is a tar-like substance that has various chemicals and hydrocarbons added to it so that it will flow through pipelines. The industry refers to the substance as “dilbit”. Here’s some of our main concerns: Dilbit contains benzene, mixed hydrocarbons and n-hexane. All three are toxins that can affect the human brain and central nervous system.

Dilbit’s characteristics make it very different than conventional petroleum, therefore it operates very differently than does conventional oil as it flows through the pipeline. Dilbit has much higher acidity, viscosity, sulfur content, pipeline temperature and pipeline pressure than do conventional oil pipelines. Dilbit also contains higher rates of flow per second of quartz and silicates than do commercial sand blasters. These factors create concerns regarding pipeline spill risks. Dilbit does not float when it spills into water like conventional oil. Dilbit sinks, making surface water containment strategies ineffective.

Despite industry promises of safety and pipeline integrity, spills happen often. In fact, there are more than 100 petrochemical pipeline spills every year flowing toxic poisons into our forests, fields, waterways and communities.

There is the outrage.

The Missouri grassroots group is not talking out of the side of its mouth.  The Missouri Coalition for the Environment writes that Enbridge :

...experienced a dilbit pipeline spill in 2010 near the town of Marshall, Michigan which contaminated 35 miles of the Kalamazoo River with more than 1 million gallons of the sticky, thick, tarry stuff. Three years later, problems in the River persist. Part of the problem is that Dilbit does not behave like oil. It sinks, which makes traditional oil spill containment tools less effective.

A recent Exxon oil spill in Arkansas reveals the perils of the diluted bitumen pipelines. On March 31st, 2013, 500,000 gallons of dilbit were spilled into the town of Mayflower, Arkansas. The dilbit emitted hydrogen sulfide, benzene and toluene resulting in citizens sick with gastrointestinal problems, headaches, respiratory problems, skin irritation including chemical burns, and extreme fatigue. The dilbit burst from an aging pipeline (like the aging Speahead, noted above) and filled their neighborhood with toxic fumes and black tarry sludge. Aging pipelines may be more vulnerable to the higher pressures required to transport the thick, heavy dilbit.

 Kathleen Logan Smith with the Missouri Coalition for the Environment says the pipeline could destroy ecologically important habitats, and contaminate waterways and drinking water supplies.  “It wouldn’t take much to create a real problem,” said Logan Smith. “One disaster would be a long-term problem because it’s very hard to clean this stuff up.”

Heather B. Navarro, MCE's Executive Director adds, 

These tars sands are just increasing our reliance on fossil fuels.  If this country cares about jobs and efficiency and moving forward, we need to be investing in renewable sources of energy instead of pouring all of our money and giving these huge handouts to these private companies.

Sierra Club’s Oklahoma Chapter Director David Ocamb says, 

 We’ve already seen the devastating effects of toxic tar sands pipeline spills in Mayflower, Arkansas.  Oklahoma’s citizens deserve the right to have safe drinking water as well as streams and lakes to recreate and fish.  We must stop this expansion of tar sands pipelines in our state to secure Oklahoma’s future.

I'm thinking we are going to need something a bit more militant than a pack of law suites, the Sierra Club, and other establishment environmental groups. 
So, check out if this pipeline is coming your way, and then head on our and say, "Hold it right there, pardner."

The following is from the Nation Blogs.



This past weekend I was thrilled to attend the second annual Great Lakes Bioneersconference in Chicago, which has been a wonderful introduction for me this year and last to the remarkably dedicated work citizens are doing around the concept of “resilience”—a word frequently used in psychology to refers to people’s ability to bounce back in the face of life challenges and which environmentalists have adopted into an umbrella term for practices centered around how communities can create a sustainable future within an unsustainable present—to build a new world in a shell of the old. In 2012, I learned about one of the movement’s coolest big ideas, “biomimicry”—the concept of better design through imitating nature. This year I learned about “food forests,” which is amazing stuff too—“a gardening technique or land management system that mimics a woodland ecosystem but substitutes in edible trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals.”
I also learned something horrifying. Please allow me to share.
You know something about tar sands, those petroleum deposits sedimented within mineral layers, concentrated in the Canadian province of Alberta. They can be converted into crude oil via a highly disruptive refining process, then transported to market via a process that is even more disruptive: overland and underwater pipelines. You know about tar sands, no doubt, because of the Keystone XL controversy. At Bioneers yesterday I attended a strategy session led by tar sands activists who were glad that the Keystone XL controversy has focused attention of the whole ghastly business; XL, because it crosses an international border, requires presidential action, which has provoked activists to launch a highly visible pressure campaign aimed at the White House. But they were worried about that attention, too—because “XL” serves a distraction from other, more proximate pipeline crises unfolding now, today, perhaps beneath a waterway or across a county near you, that you might be able to help stop now, through grassroots action.
It’s not just the record number of pipelines that are being builtThere is also the newly flourishing and massively risky practice of reversing the directional flow of existing pipelines, often in conjunction with massive increases in pressure that the pipes were not designed to withstand (here’s a story about a pipeline reversal in which the volume will almost triple). That was almost certainly a major reason for the disastrous rupture of ExxonMobil’s Pegasus pipeline last March in Mayflower, Arkansas, which you may have heard about—or which you may not have heard about, given that the Federal Aeronautics Administration, in a suspicious move made in cooperation with ExxonMobil, immediately banned flights above the spill from descending below a floor of 1,000 feet, while inquiring reporters on the ground were told by local sheriff’s deputies, “You have ten seconds to leave or you will be arrested.”
One of the most monumental reversal-and-construction projects is taking place on a 485-mile pipeline that used to transport petroleum drilled in the Gulf of Mexico to the Midwest—but beginning in the spring of 2012 began moving tar sand-derived crude from Cushing, Oklahoma (the “Pipeline Crossroads of the World”), to the Gulf Coast for transportation onto the world market (a key concept—the world market; none of this has anything to do with American “energy independence”). It’s called the Keystone Pipeline Gulf Coast Project, and it has been the obsession of one of the remarkable panelists I heard last weekend. Earl Hatley, a Native American from Oklahoma and legendary environmental activist, was a principal in a lawsuit, dismissed by a federal judge last month, to keep that monstrosity from being completed. An exceptionally experienced observer of the wicked ways of the corporate carbon cowboys now deforming the North American landscape, he offered some shrewd assessments of the current state of play based on what he learned from that process.
The clever lawyers for the pipeline company TransCanada, you see, had devised a shifty way to get pipelines reversed, built or both, before opposition can have time to gel. They get a special kind of expedited permit from the Army Corps called “Nationwide Permit 12,” which is supposed to be limited to projects that disturb less than a half-acre of wetland in a “single and complete project.” But companies claim, in clear violation of the intent of the Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, that each crossing of a body of water (there are more than a thousand for the project in question, adding up to 130 acres of high-quality forested wetlands) is a “separate” project, each falling below the threshold of scrutiny. That way they can avoid public hearings, avoid filing a environmental impact—can avoid any accountability at all, really. “It’s not a public process,” explains Hatley. (Nope. Only the lands are public.) Or, actually, processes—for what the NWP 12 scam allows is for pipeline companies to overwhelm the system, as the legal complaint from the Sierra Club and Clean Energy Future Oklahoma explains, by “piecemealing” what is obviously a single project (even though you obviously can’t have a pipeline if it’s in pieces), “into several hundred 1/2-acre ‘projects’ so as to avoid the individual permit process.” So it is that Army Corps of Engineers, the named defendant in the suit, gets to mete out little chunks of permission every eleven miles or so, in secret, the public and the planet be damned.
The plaintiffs be damned, too. In a ruling early last month that is simply staggering in its bald deference to dollarocracy, an appeals panel ruled that because “the harm an injunction would cause TransCanada was significant,” and because $500 million had already been spent on the project, it was “undisputed that further delay [would] cost hundreds of thousands of dollars each day.”
That’s right: the plain intent of US environmental law could be contravened because it would cost a corporation. A court actually said this.
And get this. The court also said that the plaintiffs, the Sierra Club and Clean Energy Future Oklahoma, couldn’t have their injunction because—well, there’s only one way to put it: because they weren’t wealthy enough. As the AP article on the decision put it, it was impossible for the lawsuit to go further because “the Sierra Club and the other groups could not post a bond to cover TransCanada’s losses if the pipeline builder ultimately wins the lawsuit.”
For activists like Hatley, it was back to the drawing board. Sad news? Of course. You see why expedited permitting and construction are so important to oil companies: like Israel’s occupation on the West Bank, once they establish their “facts on the ground,” the process feels impossible to reverse. This process, by the way, was personally endorsed by President Obama, who traveled to Cushing last year to sing hosannahs to building more pipeline. (After all, the National Security State needs tar sand crude to maintain a viable imperial presence around the globe. That’s why they call oil a “strategic commodity.”)
But look here: there is (as a certain presidential candidate used to like to say) hope. You can’t have a pipeline, after all, if it’s in pieces. What if We the People found a way to break the chain? To, as it were, perforate the pipe?
That was the most exciting part of the Bioneers session for me. Look at the map above. That’s the Flanagan South pipeline project being planned by TransCanada’s rival Enbridge (slogan: “Where energy meets people”), set to run 600 miles from Flanagan, Illinois, to Cushing, Oklahoma, sending some 600,000 barrels a day across states of Illinois, Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma. Which makes for lots of disrupt-able links in the chain. And here’s where the disruption could come from. A model one of the activists in the audience at the session pointed to, the Tar Sands Free Town campaign, “[builds] on model resolutions already adopted in Bellingham, Washington, [in which] individual municipalities can pass resolutions that keep fuel from tar sands refineries out of their towns.”
Those burgs that dot the map from Flanagan to Cushing: Caney and Humbolt and Lynn in Kansas; Gum and Concordia and Key and Shelby in Missouri; Goodfield and Florence and Rush and Quincy in Illinois—those are the towns Enbridge will be eyeing for colonization-via-fossil fuel pump stations and refiners. What will happen when the colonizers arrive? Hatley described his own observations from Oklahoma: arrogant out-of-town oil men will refuse to patronize local businesses, break promises to provide local jobs, condescend standoffishly to local citizens. “You go through the cafes…. You stand up, and you start having rallies. You let people know.” And, he said, people respond.
Another panelist, MacDonald Stainsby, who is based in Vancouver, told an extraordinary story about the time he visited a village in Africa. The people there were amazed when he recited to them, as if he were a clairvoyant, exactly the history of double-dealing and mendacity and environmental abuse they’d suffered when an oil multinational came to town. How did he know? they asked. Because, he replied, that was exactly what they did to towns in Canada—and everywhere else. Which is why, Hatley explained, activists should try to “catch the process before it goes forward,” from the bottom up. That is where the hope lies.
Organize with these facts from the pipeline-rupture epidemic, which have flown largely below the media radar. A Koch-owned pipeline spilled 400 barrels in Texas last week. “Details are scarce regarding the cause of the spill,” Alternet reports, but that’s nothing compared to what happened a few weeks earlier: “a pipeline that spewed over 20,000 barrels of crude oil into a North Dakota wheat field went unreported for eleven days until it was discovered by a farmer harvesting his wheat. A subsequent Associated Press investigation found nearly three hundred oil 300 oil spills and 750 oil field incidents have gone unreported in the state since January 2012 alone.” According to a report from the watchdogs at Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, the office at the Department of Transportation in charge of regulating 2.6 million miles of pipeline spends three times more hours hobnobbing at industry conferences than it does responding to spills, explosions and other incidents on the ground.
And how do the companies respond when evidence of a crisis emerges? Hatley said that when the monitors at Enbridge’s far-off headquarters spied low pressure in their pipe flowing below Mayflower, Arkansas, they didn’t shut down and look into the possibility of a rupture. They amped up the pressure instead—three separate times. Meanwhile a pipeline safety expert with forty years’ experience predicts that the chance of rupture of a pipeline repurposed for tar sands that runs through the most populated part of Canada and crosses waterways providing drinking water for millions of Canadians is… “over 90 percent.”
And last summer, the National Wildlife Federation sent divers down to inspect the sixty-year-old pipelines Enbridge operates beneath the Straits of Mackinac—a major tourist area in Michigan—after the company (and the federal government’s Pipeline Hazards Safety Administration) refused for two years to release information about their safety and integrity or even their location. You can watch the video here to see what they found: “pipelines suspended over the lakebed, some original supports broken away (indicating the presence of corrosion), and some sections of the suspended pipelines covered in large piles of unknown debris.” Among the cities with refiners that receive tar sands from this eminently admirable company, according to Clean Energy Future Oklahoma, are Joliet, Illinois; Whiting, Indiana; St. Paul, Minnesota; Toledo, Ohio (they have two); and Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Enbridge began construction this summer on Flanagan South, using the obnoxiousNationwide Permit 12 process. The fact that you’ve heard of Keystone XL but not this, even though the route might nearly snuggle up to your front porch—it comes within twenty miles of Peoria, Illinois, to take one example—has nothing to do with size: according to Midwestern Energy News, the project will carry “600,000 barrels a day initially for the Flanagan South, and 783,000 barrels per day once combined with the Spearhead, an existing pipeline that largely runs parallel to the proposed Flanagan route,” compared to 830,000 barrels for Keystone XL.
Midwesterners, let’s get to work. It won’t be easy: reports the NWF of its underwater adventure, “despite having cleared our dive work with the U.S. Coast Guard, several Congressional members, and Homeland Security, our staff and the dive crew had uncomfortable interactions with Enbridge representatives. As soon as our team set out on the water, we were quickly accompanied by an Enbridge crew that monitored our every move. This monitoring did not stop at the surface: Enbridge also placed a Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) into the water to watch our team.”
I’m sure Enbridge had only the most public spirited of intentions. Reports the company website, “Government regulations for the approval and maintenance of pipelines are transparent and rigorous. With our focus on safety, and our commitment to adopting state-of-the-art technology, Enbridge meets and often exceeds those regulations—and that has earned us recognition as an industry leader. But we know that’s not good enough. Nothing is more important to us than the safety of our pipelines, our communities, and the environment. We continue to strive in the areas of monitoring, prevention, response, and new technology for a delivery record of 100%.”
What liars. Sounds like a villain worthy of your most mighty attention.

No comments: