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John Upton's Posts


It's dirty work, but ...

Pipeline builder says oil spills can be good for the economy

Cleaning up the Kalmazoo River
Mic Stolz
Kinder Morgan's idea of job creation.

Kinder Morgan wants to spend $5.4 billion tripling the capacity of an oil pipeline between the tar sands of Alberta and the Vancouver, B.C., area. Yes, the company acknowledges, there's always the chance of a "large pipeline spill." But it says the "probability" of such an accident is "low." And anyway, if a spill does happen, it could be an economic boon.

"Spill response and cleanup" after oil pipeline ruptures, such as the emergency operations near Kalamazoo, Mich., in 2010 and in the Arkansas community of Mayflower last year, create “business and employment opportunities for affected communities, regions, and cleanup service providers,” the company argues.

Those aren't the outrageous comments of a company executive shooting off his mouth while a reporter happened to be neaby. Those are quotes taken from an official document provided to the Canadian government in support of the company's efforts to expand its pipeline.


The men who poisoned Charleston’s drinking water now have a “new” business

Elk River water sample
West Virginia University

"Freedom Industries, the company whose chemical leak contaminated the tap water of 300,000 West Virginians, will cease to exist once it goes through bankruptcy, but that doesn’t mean its executives are out of the chemical business," according to an excellent investigative report by The Charleston Gazette.

A January spill of a coal-cleaning chemical from one of Freedom's rusty tanks triggered a major crisis for Charleston residents, who had to find alternate sources of water. Roughly a third of them experienced negative health impacts from the polluted water, experts estimate.

But while Freedom Industries is technically going out of business, its leaders are quietly starting up again under a new name, as the Gazette explains:


Bird lovers to sue feds for letting wind farms kill eagles

bald eagle

Some bird advocates ain't cool with recent moves by the Obama administration to smooth the way for wind power.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced in December that it will issue 30-year “take” permits that allow wind farms to inadvertently kill bald and golden eagles, provided they use “advanced conservation practices” to limit the number of deaths. Previously the permits were issued for only up to five years.

This week, the American Bird Conservancy said it will sue the federal government over the permits.

Wind energy advocates point out that turbines are less deadly to birds than many fossil fuel operations, not to mention household cats and buildings — and that wind power can help birds by slowing climate change. Still, the bird lovers at ABC think the wind industry needs to do more to protect our feathery friends.


Chicagoans fight the Kochs and their petcoke

One of the petcoke piles in Chicago
Southeast Environmental Task Force

When tar-sands oil is refined, a nasty byproduct called petroleum coke, or petcoke, is produced -- thick, dusty gunk that is increasingly being stored in huge piles along Midwestern rivers. On Chicago’s Southeast Side, unfortunate neighbors have been fighting to get rid of three such piles, noting that the petcoke blows over their communities and even into their homes. But they've failed, at least for now.

The Chicago City Council on Wednesday voted to ban new petcoke storage facilities, but the old ones will be allowed to remain in place and uncovered for up to two years. City lawyers said stricter proposed regulations might not stand up in court. The Times of Northwest Indiana reports:

Aldermen voted overwhelmingly in favor of a measure by 10th Ward Alderman John Pope that will require petcoke to be stored in indoor structures within two years. …

Currently, Beemsterboer Slag Corp. and KCBX Terminals Co. are the only companies storing petcoke within Chicago, both at sites along the Calumet River in the 10th Ward. …

2nd Ward Alderman Robert Fioretti, the lone alderman to vote against the petcoke measure, said he … thinks city officials, in creating this measure, were more concerned with protecting the business interests of Beemsterboer and KCBX than they were in looking out for city residents.

Activists are not backing off -- they're filing an unusual lawsuit that directly targets the Koch brothers, owners of KCBX Terminals, among other parties. Climate Progress has the story:


Is Monsanto’s Roundup linked to a deadly kidney disease?

Monsanto protest sign
Emma Rothaar

Entire communities of sugar-farm laborers in Central America are being crippled by a sometimes deadly kidney malady -- and nobody knows why. But some think the herbicide glyphosate, sold by Monsanto under the name Roundup, may be connected to the epidemic.

NPR reports on the rash of illnesses:


Greenpeace activists arrested — again — for trying to block Russia’s Arctic oil activities

Greenpeace activism in the Netherlands

Greenpeace activists aren't letting a little jail time dissuade them from continuing their fight against Russia's nascent Arctic oil-drilling program.

The crew aboard Greenpeace's Rainbow Warrior ship tried on Thursday to block the first delivery of oil from Russia's first offshore oil rig to a harbor in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. The crew included some of the same activists who were arrested by Russian authorities in September for attempting to scale the oil rig in frigid waters. The activists were released from jail in December as part of a pre-Olympics amnesty program.

This latest stunt got them arrested again -- but this time by Dutch police instead of Russian ones. Reuters reports:


déjà feu all over again

Oil train derails in Virginia, explodes, pollutes river

Lynchburg train derailment
Upper James Riverkeeper

Oil trains keep exploding across Canada and the U.S.  Canada has at least started making moves to get the most dangerous, puncture-prone cars off its rails. The U.S., not so much.

So now we have the latest oil-train disaster: a derailment and explosion in Lynchburg, Va., which contaminated a source of drinking water and triggered the evacuation of hundreds of people.

Rail company CSX said that 15 cars of its freight train, which was traveling from Chicago to Virginia, derailed Wednesday afternoon in downtown Lynchburg, a city with a population of about 75,000. Three cars laden with oil exploded and tumbled into the James River, which feeds into Chesapeake Bay. Officials estimate they were carrying 50,000 gallons of oil. "The ensuing conflagration ignited oil on the surface of the river, sent flames and smoke hundreds of feet into the air, forced evacuations of downtown businesses and homes and rattled the nerves of hundreds of downtown workers," reports the Lynchburg News & Advance.

No injuries were reported, and the flames were extinguished within a couple of hours. Emergency responders are trying to contain the oil using floating absorbent boom.

Here's one of the eyewitness accounts published by the News & Advance:


Why is Alaska fighting the cleanup of Chesapeake Bay?

Chesapeake Bay

The EPA has a plan to clean up Chesapeake Bay, which has been polluted by agriculture interests for decades. A "pollution diet" finalized by the agency in 2010 would reduce the amount of animal waste and fertilizer that gushes into the bay from the 64,000-square-mile watershed every year, causing dead zones.

The American Farm Bureau Federation, corn growers, pork and poultry producers, and home builders are fighting that plan in a federal lawsuit, accusing the EPA of making an illegal power grab. Twenty-one states -- including Alaska and many others that are nowhere near the Chesapeake watershed -- have joined the suit, worried that the cleanup plan could set a dangerous precedent and spread ecological health to their own tainted waterways.


EPA’s McCarthy slams the agency’s anti-science critics

Gina McCarthy
Albert H. Teich

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy has some sharp words for those who criticize the agency's use of science in drawing up regulations, most notably fossil fuel companies and climate deniers in Congress.

"With science as our North Star, EPA has steered America away from health risks and toward healthier communities and a higher overall quality of life," McCarthy said during the annual meeting of the National Academy of Sciences in Washington on Monday. "That's why it's worrisome that our science seems to be under constant assault by a small -- but vocal -- group of critics."

Here were McCarthy's really choice comments, as reported by Greenwire:


A week after Alaska OKs a big gas pipeline, another gas pipeline ruptures

North Shore oil spill
Patrik Sartz, Alaska DEC via Alaska Dispatch
Oily brown where there should only be white.

BP sprayed a fine mist of oil, natural gas, and water over 27 acres of tundra on Alaska's North Slope on Monday. It's still not known how much vaporized oil and gas were spilled during the two-hour natural-gas pipeline accident at Prudhoe Bay, where a large oilfield is located, nor how long it will take to repair the ruptured pipe. But here's what we do know, thanks to the Alaska Dispatch:

Such a large area of snow was covered because the leak occurred in the pipe’s 12 o’clock position, on top, and the pressurized gas sprayed crude oil and water into a strong wind, said Ashley Adamczak, a spokesperson with [the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation]. ...

The damage is a little more than a mile from the 2006 leak of a transit line that ultimately became the largest recorded spill on the North Slope. That spill lasted five days and discharged 200,000 gallons over two acres. BP ultimately pled guilty to negligent discharge after failing to address corrosion. ...

As for the cleanup, the hope is to get the oil and water removed before the snow and ice melts, and before migratory birds arrive in perhaps a couple of weeks, Adamczak said.