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Shell celebrates new Alaska drilling by apparently losing control of a ship [updated]

According to KUCB, the community radio station in (the oddly named) Unalaska, Alaska:

Shell Oil has run into a number of problems with its Arctic drilling plans over the last few days. The Coast Guard refused to certify its oil spill containment barge, the EPA is reviewing the Noble Discoverer drill rig's air permits -- and now, there may be damage to the rig itself.

The Noble Discoverer appears to have run aground in Unalaska on Saturday afternoon.

Well, of course. If you're curious, here's what the Noble Discoverer looks like. (The words "noble" and "discoverer" are not meant to be taken literally.)

Despite rain and 35-knot winds, more than a dozen residents came to Airport Beach to watch the Shell's contract tugboat Lauren Foss straining to pull the rig back out to sea. ...

Shell Alaska spokesman Curtis Smith says the company has activated a dive team to inspect the hull, which could help determine whether the ship actually touched bottom.

Shell is also evaluating the Noble Discoverer's mooring system to determine how the vessel moved toward shore, he says. But Smith did not say that the ship had run aground.

Read more: Oil


Today, Congress will hear about how chickens are impairing the oil industry

Stewart Black
Watch out for me.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) is chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. In theory, the committee is meant to ensure the proper, ethical functioning of the body. In practice under Issa, it's a little more free-ranging. (We've written about Issa before.)

Today, Issa's committee is tackling an issue that strikes close to the heart of governmental malfeasance with a hearing entitled "America’s Energy Future Part I: A Review of Unnecessary and Burdensome Regulations." I mean, it's basically the next Watergate.

Here's Issa's argument for the hearing's necessity.

In the midst of the economic morass, the oil and gas industry has gained distinction for the many new jobs it has created and the affordable energy it has provided the rest of the nation. I am convinced that increased domestic energy production is one of the keys to economic recovery. In fact, energy is the lifeblood of a strong economy. ...

The cumulative effect of unnecessary federal regulations threatens to derail the American Energy Renaissance that the citizens of this state have helped to spark.

So in other words, the oil industry is booming, but regulation is killing it. Sure, got it.

Read more: Oil, Politics


Fuel tanker explosion in Nigeria kills more than 90

Over 90 people were killed earlier today when a fuel tanker truck overturned in Nigeria's Niger Delta. From the BBC:

The authorities say the vehicle did not immediately burst into flames so nearby villagers rushed to collect the fuel.

But the tanker then exploded, burning many of them to death.

Journalist Emeka Idika told the BBC a mass burial for those burnt beyond recognition would take place in Rivers state and about 35 people had been taken to hospital.

He said the death toll might be higher as some people from the nearby village of Okogbe were on fire as they ran into the bush -- and their bodies had not yet been located.

Read more: Oil


How the oil boom in Montana has turned railroads into a pipeline

There was an interesting sentence buried in a Washington Post article that we referenced in a post earlier this week. The Post article assessed political support in Montana for an extension of the Keystone pipeline, noting:

In Montana, the majority of voters back it because TransCanada has included an “on-ramp” that will transport Bakken oil to the Gulf Coast. The oil is currently moved on rail cars, trucks and smaller pipelines.

"Bakken oil" is oil from the massive Bakken formation.

Image courtesy of

The region stretches down from Canada over the borders of Montana and North Dakota. Estimates of its reserves have fluctuated over time. But most likely it contains over 100 mllion barrels of shale oil. The scale of the deposit has created a boom in both states over the past two years, with one estimate suggesting that there are over 6,000 wells now active.


The worst onshore oil spill in American history didn’t have to happen

A turtle rescued from the Kalamazoo River is cleaned. Click to embiggen. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.)

Just under two years ago, on July 25 at 6 p.m., a pipeline carrying tar-sands oil split open in southern Michigan. Over the course of the next 17 hours, diluted bitumen -- a particularly dense form of petroleum -- spilled into the Kalamazoo River and a tributary. Estimates of the amount that spilled started at 819,000 gallons and went up, eventually topping 1,000,000. The spill made nearby residents sick: headaches, nausea, breathing difficulties. Many birds fared far worse.

It was the worst onshore spill in American history. And the entire thing was completely preventable.

Today, the National Transportation Safety Board released the results of its investigation into the spill. The San Francisco Chronicle summarizes:

Enbridge Inc. knew in 2005 that its pipeline near Marshall, a city 95 miles west of Detroit, was cracked and corroded, but it didn't perform excavations that ultimately might have prevented the rupture, NTSB investigators told the five-member board at a meeting in Washington.

Investigators also faulted Enbridge control center personnel for twice pumping more oil into the line after the spill began and failing to discover what had happened for more than 17 hours, when an employee of a natural gas company notified them.

Read more: Fossil Fuels, Oil


How nearly empty swaths of Montana guide policy on the Keystone pipeline

Protestor with "Stop the Pipeline" signPhoto by Elvert Barnes.

All politics is local -- even politics that impact the entire nation.

In Montana, political support for extending the Keystone pipeline to shunt tar-sands oil from Alberta to Oklahoma is a given. Both of the state's senators, Max Baucus (D) and Jon Tester (D), publicly support the extension -- but they don't have much choice. From the Washington Post:

In October, a Montana State University Billings poll found that 64 percent of Montanans supported the pipeline, with 14 percent opposed and 22 percent undecided. …

Earlier in the permitting process, Baucus successfully lobbied for a design change in which TransCanada agreed to use thicker pipe along the Montana portion of its route. Tester had sought to add language to the highway bill that would require the oil shipped through the pipeline to be refined and sold in the United States, but it remains uncertain if such as provision could make it into law.


Norway could halt all oil extraction tonight, probably only temporarily

A model offshore rig. (Photo by eschipul.)

Norway, the world's eighth-largest producer of oil, could cease all production later today. From France24:

Norway is hours away from the first complete shutdown of its oil industry in more than 25 years as the government holds off on breaking up a fight between striking offshore workers and employers, threatening exports from western Europe's top producer.

The strike by offshore workers over pensions is already in its third week, and a deadline for government intervention ahead of a planned midnight lockout of all offshore staff looms.

"The companies are now ready to close down production on the Norwegian continental shelf if the government doesn't intervene before midnight," Eli Ane Nedreskaar, a spokeswoman for the Norwegian oil industry association (OLF), told Reuters.

The sticking point is a request from offshore workers to lower their retirement age to 62. An existing strike has already cut the country's output by 13 percent.

Read more: Oil


Radiohead, Jude Law, and Greenpeace make a sad, sad polar bear video

Here are so many things that we like, all in one place. Greenpeace. Jude Law. Polar bears. RADIOHEAD.

Together, these forces for good made a video about a sad, sad polar bear who can no longer live in the Arctic.

Here it is:

Okay, now we are going to cry. Or at least sit around for the rest of the day and contemplate the meaninglessness of existence.

Read more: Animals, Climate Change, Oil


Mickey Mouse pushes fossil fuels in this 1985 comic book

Matt Novak of Paleofuture has been posting photos of a 1985 Disney comic touting the benefits of oil pipelines and coal. What's really striking is how much it genuinely sounds like Republican talking points. I guess Goofy is the American public, Mickey is the GOP, and whoever does Mickey's voice is the Koch brothers.

Read more: Fossil Fuels, Oil


Tar-sands oil spills should scare the crap out of you

scared manOMG, the tar sands are coming!

After a seven-month investigation, InsideClimate News has published an in-depth series on "the biggest oil spill you've never heard of" -- a million-gallon-plus spill of oil-sands crude near Kalamazoo, Mich., in July 2010. If you like your summer reading on the heavy side, dive right into part one, or download the whole series as an e-book.

Or you can get the highlights lowlights right here:

The takeaway: Tar-sands spills are incredibly, frighteningly difficult to clean up. And it's this same kind of oil that would be pumped through the Keystone XL pipeline if it gets built, sent 1,700 miles right down the middle of the country, and right over the Ogallala Aquifer, a major source of freshwater for drinking and irrigation.

Tar-sands or oil-sands crude -- technically called bitumen -- is goopy, tricky stuff: