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Bakken Bomb Trains: Hell on Rails

By x356039 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, September 1, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Over the past two years the volume of bakken crude oil, extracted from the tar sand fields of Alberta, Wyoming, Utah, North and South Dakota, has skyrocketed by an astonishing 900%. Thanks in part to the work of many brave communities in the line of fire and the logistical difficulties of building a continent-spanning pipeline the companies extracting this toxic material have sought out other methods for moving the volume of material they desire for export overseas to China and points beyond. The solution they have settled on is to move the bakken crude by oil trains, some stretching over a mile, owned by high-powered corporate captains of industry like Warren Buffett and Bill Gates from the point of extraction to the points of refinement and distribution.

They argue the materials being ripped from the Earth's crust are vitally necessary for energy independence and economic growth. What these self-interested short-sighted tycoons overlook is the truly massive cost in far more real terms than a mere bottom line such decisions are inflicting on people, communities, and the biosphere. In spite of the measured, massaged tones they use to assuage the fully-justified fears of the public there is little doubt the extraction, refinement, and movement of bakken crude by rail is a clear and present danger to all life in the path of these deadly horsemen.

The first and surest sign of the threat these bomb trains pose is the town of Lac-Megantic, Quebec. A small community located on Lake Megantic it is the sort of place, prior to the summer of 2013, one would never have expected to become associated with the worst rail disaster in Canadian history and one of the worst ever in North America. One fateful evening a bakken crude train was pulled off to a siding by its lone crew member so they could take a break from an extremely long shift and catch up on much needed sleep. During the night the brakes securing the train came loose and the train rolled off the track, tipping over and rupturing the tanks containing the highly volatile bakken crude. Thanks to the incredibly low flash point of bakken crude, due to the nature of the refining process, the entire train load went up in a flash obliterating a huge swath of Lac-Megantic. In the rushing inferno that followed 47 people's lives were mercilessly snuffed out, from young children to the elderly, without warning or any possibility of escape.

In the immediate wake firefighters from across Quebec and neighboring Maine were called in to bring the fires under control, do whatever they could for the survivors, and bury the dead. So great was the ferocity of the blaze following the disaster that nothing less than such a massive mobilization of emergency personnel would stand a chance. All were left stunned, shocked, and wondering how such a catastrophe could be visited on their homes with no warning of any kind. In the words of Tim Pellerin, fire chief for Rangeley, Maine, “It was like a World War II bombing zone. There was just block after block of everything incinerated. All that was left were foundations and chimneys. Everything burned. The buildings, the asphalt, the grass, the trees, the telephone poles. Just about everything was incinerated.” In the investigations following Lac-Megantic many facts came to light as to how so much harm could be caused, proving without question the devastation was no fluke but a very real, predictable possibility.

Ain't NOTHING's Changed!


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Dispersant illness robbing a once strong local generation of work, economic security

By Charles Digges - Bellona, September 4, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

NEW ORLEANS/BAYOU LABATRA, Alabama – Lamont Moore’s short dreadlocks and mammoth fists make a shot glass of his coffee mug in the well of his knot-knuckled hand as he leans back to ponder a question, shying vampirically from the light bellowing into the Waffle House on Alabama State Road 39.

Adjusting his Terminator shades with his other meaty mitt, he radiates the impression of a retired prizefighter tired of talking to the media.

But Moore, 34, is fatigued for other reasons. He can’t climb a flight of stairs without having to sit down and catch his wind. He pinches the bridge of his nose against the swirling hurricane of a debilitating migraine. He’s chosen not to join the rest of us in breakfast because of stomach pain. And he can’t read the menu anyway – the sunlight is too much for his eyes.

lamar

Lamar Moore, who cleaned beaches in Alabama during the Deepwater Horizon spill. (Charles Digges/Bellona)

Even the sunglasses that he fashioned out of welder’s goggles don’t help. Most of the time, he says, he bumbling around in a whiteout.

He finally breaks the silence, rubbing a cyst the size of cherry on his jaw that’s been there since he worked the beaches of Dauphin Island, Alabama to help cleanup the oil of the Deepwater Horizon spill. “I’m really sorry, but what did you ask?”

The memory loss is part of the overall symptomology of Corexit poisoning, or “BP syndrome,” as it’s sometimes referred to by Dr. Michael Robichaux, one of the few Gulf area physicians to treat and document the symptoms of poisoning by crude and Corexit, the oil dispersant that BP dumped 1.84 million gallons of to hide the effects of its 4.9 million barrel blowout in the Gulf of Mexico’s Macondo well.

Reckless BP Kills 11 Men Now They Face Civil Fines

West Coast Native News - September 4, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

A Louisiana federal court basted BP for the massive 2010 oil spill in the U.S. Gulf Coast on Thursday, saying the incident was a combination of “gross negligence” and “reckless” conduct by the oil giant and other oil producers — a judgement the company strongly rejected.

The ruling means BP could face as much as $17.6 billion in civil fines under the Clean Water Act, The company could now face fines as much as $4,300 for every barrel of oil lost. Based on government estimates from the time of how much was lost, the company could end up with a fine of almost $18 billion. Just this week, Halliburton agreed to pay $1.1 billion to settle claims related to its role in the disaster.

Earlier this year, a separate court ruling determined BP would have to set aside $9.2 billion in settlement funds, a figure the company was fighting to reduce.

Here is a list of the 11 workers who died after a blast on the BP-leased drilling rig Deepwater Horizon on April 20, 2010 about 50 miles southeast of the Louisiana coast in the Gulf of Mexico.  — after burning for about a day and a half — the Deepwater Horizon sank. It rests on the bottom about a mile below the Gulf surface.

None of the men worked directly for BP. Two were employed by M-I Swaco, a division of oil field services company Schlumberger. The rest worked for Transocean.

— Jason Anderson, 35, of Midfield, Texas. A father of two. His wife, Shelley, said Thanksgiving was his favorite holiday. Anderson began preparing a will in February 2010 and kept it in a spiral notebook. It sank with the rig.

—Aaron Dale “Bubba” Burkeen, 37, of Philadelphia, Miss. His death at the Deepwater Horizon came on his wedding anniversary and four days before his birthday. He was married with two children.

—Donald Clark, 49, of Newellton, La. He was scheduled to leave the rig on April 21, the day after the blast.

—Stephen Ray Curtis, 40, of Georgetown, La., Curtis was married and had two teenagers.

—Gordon Jones, 28, of Baton Rouge, La. Jones arrived on the rig the day before the explosion. He died three days before his sixth wedding anniversary and 10 minutes after talking to his pregnant wife, Michelle Jones. Their son, Max, was born three weeks later.

—Roy Wyatt Kemp, 27, Jonesville, La. Kemp was married. His daughter’s birthday was 3 days before the explosion. Kemp was scheduled to leave the rig on April 21.

—Karl Kleppinger Jr., 38, of Natchez, Miss. Kleppinger was a veteran of the first Gulf War and the father of one child.

—Keith Blair Manuel, 56, of Gonzales, La. Manuel had three daughters. He was a fan of LSU athletics and had football and basketball season tickets.

—Dewey A. Revette, 48, of State Line, Miss. Revette had been married to his wife, Sherri, for 26 years when the rig exploded. He was scheduled to leave the rig on April 21.

—Shane M. Roshto, 22, of Liberty, Miss. His wife, Natalie, filed a lawsuit April 21, 2010, saying she suffered post-traumatic stress disorder after her husband was killed in the explosion. He was set to leave the rig on April 21.

— Adam Weise, 24, Yorktown, Texas. Weise drove 10 hours to Louisiana every three weeks to work on the rig. A high school football star, he spent off- time hunting and fishing. He was scheduled to leave the rig on April 21.

No bodies were recovered.

Common Resources PDF: What Did the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling Moratorium Mean for the Workforce?

Joseph E Aldy - Common Resources, August 22, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

On April 20, 2010, the Transocean Deepwater Horizon suffered a catastrophic blowout while drilling in a BP lease in the Gulf of Mexico’s Macondo Prospect. This accident resulted in the largest oil spill in US history and an unprecedented spill response effort. Due to the ongoing spill and concerns about the safety of offshore oil drilling, the US Department of the Interior suspended offshore deep water oil and gas drilling operations on May 27, 2010, in what became known as the offshore drilling moratorium. The media portrayed the impacts of these events on local employment, with images of closed fisheries, idle rigs, as well as boats skimming oil and workers cleaning oiled beaches.

In a new RFF discussion paper, “The Labor Market Impacts of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling Moratorium,” I estimate and examine the net impact of the oil spill, the drilling moratorium, and spill response on employment and wages in the Gulf Coast.

Read the full article here.

This and other PDFs are featured on our links page.

Subsidy Spotlight: Paid to Pollute and Poison

By Paul Thacker - Oil Change International, July 28, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

A wife and mother of two from Venice, Louisiana, Kindra Arnesen says her life can be divided into two chapters: before April 20, 2010, and after. On that evening, an oil well located several miles off the coast of Louisiana discharged large bubbles of gas which traveled a mile to the surface before igniting, destroying the oil rig and killing eleven men. Thus began the worst marine oil spill in history and America’s largest environmental disaster, with hundreds of millions of gallons of oil eventually spilling into the Gulf of Mexico.

Four years later, residents from surrounding communities claim they still struggle with the health problems caused by the BP oil spill. “You just learn to live sick,” says Arnesen, who complains of headaches and unexplained rashes that won’t go away.

Her husband, who was hired by BP to help clean up the spill, has it much worse.

A fisherman in his mid-forties, his life has not been the same. He struggles to go to work and every month he is laid low by headaches, respiratory problems, and general weakness. “I roll over at night sometimes to see if he is still breathing,” Kindra says. “It’s really scary.”

The impact of exposure to oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill on people’s wellbeing has been documented by numerous government-sponsored studies. After seven fishermen hired for oil spill cleanup were hospitalized, the National Institutes of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) examined possible health effects of the spill. Because of the wide variety of working conditions, differing levels of exposures, and confounding problems from heat, the agency’s conclusions, released in August 2011, remain rather vague. During the summer of 2010, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) held a workshop to assess the effects on people and attempted to identify high risk populations for future health concerns.

But science places a high value on controlling for variables when drawing conclusions. It has been difficult if not impossible to place direct blame on the oil spill for each individual’s health problems. Exposures to oil were not carefully measured. For all intents, people who were exposed have become involved in an uncontrolled medical experiment.

However, what is certainly well documented, yet much less publicized, is that the likelihood of this disaster was certainly encouraged by tax policies created in Washington. According to Oil Change International’s latest report, federal and state subsidies to the oil, gas, and coal industries result in a $21 billion windfall for carbon polluting companies every year. This occurs at a time when the biggest five oil companies are earning record profits, close to $93 billion last year, or $177,000 per minute. And according to corporate documents, risky drilling projects like those undertaken by BP would most likely never occur without this type of corporate welfare.

BNSF Nears Shift To One-Member Crews, Possibly Even on Dangerous Oil Trains

By Cole Stangler - DeSmog Blog, July 19, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

For decades, the U.S. railroad industry has successfully shed labor costs by shifting to smaller and smaller operating crews. Now, it’s on the verge of what was once an unthinkable victory: single-member crews, even on dangerous oil trains.

A tentative agreement reached by BNSF Railway and the Transportation Division of the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation (SMART) union would allow a single engineer to operate most of the company’s routes. It would mark a dramatic change to a labor contract that covers about 3,000 workers, or 60 percent of the BNSF system.  

It’s not just bad news for workers. The contract has major safety implications—especially amid North America’s dangerous, and sometimes deadly, crude-by-rail boom. Last year’s Bakken shale oil train derailment and explosion in Lac Mégantic, Quebec, which killed 47 people, brought increased scrutiny to oil trains. 

U.S. INDUSTRIAL SAFETY LAGS ALARMINGLY BEHIND DEVELOPED WORLD: U.S. Industrial Loss Burden 3 Times European Union and Gap Is Growing

Press Release - Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), July 9, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Washington, DC — America’s industrial infrastructure is substantially more susceptible to catastrophic failure than those in other industrialized countries, according to reports posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). In certain key sectors, such as petrochemicals, aging U.S. refineries are become more dangerous with each passing month.

The combined losses from the fires, explosions and spills regularly plaguing U.S. chemical plants takes a proportionately greater toll than in the rest of the world. For example, the reinsurance giant, Swiss Re, concludes that the sum of all reinsurance losses (the “loss burden”) in refining, petrochemical processing and gas processing industry in the U.S. is approximately three times that of the comparably sized sector in the European Union (EU), with the rest of the world similar to the EU cluster.

Beyond economic losses, the toll on American workers is also higher. A study entitled “Occupational Fatality Risks in the United States and the United Kingdom” published earlier this year in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine found the fatality rate of U.S. workers approximately three times that of workers in the U.K. American worker deaths from chemical exposure were more than 10 times higher than their U.K. counterparts; death by fire nearly 5 times and by explosion nearly 4 times as likely.

Rather than improving, some key U.S. industrial sectors are declining.

Damaged Storage Tank Spills 7,500 Gallons Of Oil Into River In Colorado

By Katie Valentine - Think Progress, June 23, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

A storage tank damaged by flooding spilled 7,500 gallons of oil into Colorado’s Cache la Poudre River on Friday.

According to the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, high floodwaters caused the Noble Energy storage tank to dip down onto a bank, damaging a valve that caused oil to leak out of the tank. The oil has gathered on vegetation up to a quarter mile downstream, but officials say the spill isn’t ongoing. Cleanup crews are working to remove oil from the riverbanks with vac-trucks and absorbent materials, and officials say no drinking water has been affected.

Tar Sands on the Tracks: Railbit, Dilbit and U.S. Export Terminals

By Ben Jervey - DeSmog Blog, June 17, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Last December, the first full train carrying tar sands crude left the Canexus Bruderheim terminal outside of Edmonton, Alberta, bound for an unloading terminal somewhere in the United States.

Canadian heavy crude, as the tar sands is labeled for market purposes, had ridden the rails in very limited capacity in years previous — loaded into tank cars and bundled with other products as part of so-called “manifest” shipments. But to the best of industry analysts’ knowledge, never before had a full 100-plus car train (called a “unit train”) been shipped entirely full of tar sands crude.

Because unit trains travel more quickly, carry higher volumes of crude and cost the shipper less per barrel to operate than the manifest alternative, this first shipment from the Canexus Bruderheim terminal signaled the start of yet another crude-by-rail era — an echo of the sudden rise of oil train transport ushered in by the Bakken boom, on a much smaller scale (for now).

This overall spike in North American crude-by-rail over the past few years has been well documented, and last month Oil Change International released a comprehensive report about the trend. As explained in Runaway Train: The Reckless Expansion of Crude-by-Rail in North America (and in past coverage in DeSmogBlog), much of the oil train growth has been driven by the Bakken shale oil boom. Without sufficient pipeline capacity in the area, drillers have been loading up much more versatile trains to cart the light, sweet tight crude to refineries in the Gulf, and on both coasts.

Unfortunately, some of these “bomb trains” never make it to their destination, derailing, spilling, exploding and taking lives.

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