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Fireball, black smoke hit sky as train carrying crude derails

By Andrea Germanos, December 30, 2013. Source: Common Dreams


A giant fireball and huge plumes of black smoke shot into the sky on Monday afternoon when a BNSF train carrying crude oil derailed after colliding with another train near Casselton, North Dakota.

“A grain train derailed and a train carrying crude ran into it,” Reuters reports Cecily Fong, public information officer with the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services, as saying. “Possibly up to 12 rail cars involved,” Fong stated.

“There was an explosion, where a car let loose and there was a giant fireball, hundreds of feet in the air,” added Assistant Chief Gary Lorenz of the City of Fargo Fire Department, who had communicated with crew at the scene. “It’s burning very strong right now,” he said. “You can see the plume of smoke for 25 miles.”
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Train carrying oil derails, explodes in Alabama

Note: Yup, not just fracked natural gas that is a disaster waiting to happen, fracked oil is as well.

–The GJEP team

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

src.adapt.960.high.1383969540796Smoke rises from derailed train cars in western Alabama on Nov. 8, 2013.WBMA via Reuters

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.

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Oglala Sioux Tribe: Resounding NO to Keystone XL Pipeline

By Owe Aku International Justice Project, April 1 2013. Source: Native News Network

Image: Native News Network

Image: Native News Network

PINE RIDGE INDIAN RESERVATION – On March 26, the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council passed Resolution 13-60 “reaffirming the Yellow Bird Steele-Poor Bear administration opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline from crossing the Mni Wiconi Water Line, any part of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and any and all 1851 and 1868 treaty lands.”

The Keystone XL pipeline’s planned route crosses much of the Lakota treaty territory, meaning the resolution bans the Pipeline from most of the northern great plains. The resolution also cites the traditional and contemporary responsibility of all Lakota people: “through ancient indigenous cultural and spiritual concepts we have always respected and maintained good relations with the animals, air, land and water of our traditional homelands since time immemorial.”

The Resolution also bans any governmental consultation with any entity of the Oglala Sioux Tribe to negotiate passage on behalf of the Tribe. Continue reading

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Filed under Actions / Protest, Climate Change, Climate Justice, Ending the Era of Extreme Energy, Energy, Indigenous Peoples, Mining, Oil, Rights, Resilience, and Restoration, Tar Sands, Water

Fracking our food supply

By Elizabeth Royte, November 28, 2012.  Source: The Nation

This article was produced in collaboration with the Food & Environment Reporting Network, an investigative reporting nonprofit focusing on food, agriculture and environmental health.

Photo: The Nation

Photo: The Nation

In a Brooklyn winery on a sultry July evening, an elegant crowd sips rosé and nibbles trout plucked from the gin-clear streams of upstate New York. The diners are here, with their checkbooks, to support a group called Chefs for the Marcellus, which works to protect the foodshed upon which hundreds of regional farm-to-fork restaurants depend. The foodshed is coincident with the Marcellus Shale, a geologic formation that arcs northeast from West Virginia through Pennsylvania and into New York State. As everyone invited here knows, the region is both agriculturally and energy rich, with vast quantities of natural gas sequestered deep below its fertile fields and forests.

In Pennsylvania, the oil and gas industry is already on a tear—drilling thousands of feet into ancient seabeds, then repeatedly fracturing (or “fracking”) these wells with millions of gallons of highly pressurized, chemically laced water, which shatters the surrounding shale and releases fossil fuels. New York, meanwhile, is on its own natural-resource tear, with hundreds of newly opened breweries, wineries, organic dairies and pastured livestock operations—all of them capitalizing on the metropolitan area’s hunger to localize its diet.

But there’s growing evidence that these two impulses, toward energy and food independence, may be at odds with each other.

Tonight’s guests have heard about residential drinking wells tainted by fracking fluids in Pennsylvania, Wyoming and Colorado. They’ve read about lingering rashes, nosebleeds and respiratory trauma in oil-patch communities, which are mostly rural, undeveloped, and lacking in political influence and economic prospects. The trout nibblers in the winery sympathize with the suffering of those communities. But their main concern tonight is a more insidious matter: the potential for drilling and fracking operations to contaminate our food. The early evidence from heavily fracked regions, especially from ranchers, is not reassuring.
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KPFK Sojourner Truth Earth Segment: Kandi Mossett of Indigenous Environmental Network on the struggle to stop a new refinery in Fort Berthold, North Dakota

Kandi Mossett, organizer with Indigenous Environmental Network and citizen of the Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara Nation, discusses the impacts of fossil fuel extraction on her community, and their struggle to stop a new refinery on the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota.

Global Justice Ecology Project teams up with KPFK’s Sojourner Truth show for weekly Earth Minutes every Tuesday and Earth Segment interviews every Thursday.

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North Dakota’s black gold rush

Cross-posted from Al Jazeera

A fast developing oil and gas industry is taking a toll on infrastructure and raising concerns among local tribes.

Far away from city lights, blackness easily moves across the sky as the sun sets over the plains of the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota.

But across this wide expanse, a hazy deep orange pulsation is emerging and lighting up the land. It’s the illumination of natural gas flares from the thousands of wells that are springing up across this part of the country.

The western half of North Dakota, as well as parts of Montana and Canada’s Saskatchewan province, all sit atop the Bakken Shale Formation – an underground rock formation ripe with oil and natural gas.

This is what is driving North Dakota’s oil boom and positioning it to become the nation’s second leading oil producer, trailing only Texas.

The Bakken is estimated to have 3.65 billion barrels of oil and 148 million barrels of natural gas liquids – and some think even more than that lies below. As the conflict in Libya deepens and unrest spreads to Gulf nations, domestic sources of energy like the Bakken would seem an oasis for the US.

Issues of trust

But the state’s oil and natural gas industry is not just a part of the idea of relying less on foreign oil; it has created a land of opportunity, drawing people from deficit-ridden and jobless states and replenishing the local communities and businesses.

While the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara tribes of Fort Berthold have welcomed the new prosperity, the boom has raised a debate not uncommon to communities caught in a resource rush. Will the oil frenzy will be a bane or a boon to them and future generations? It’s also presented challenges unique to tribes in the US.

Right now, tribal chairman Tex Hall sees it as a gift, but views it with cautious optimism.

“It’s in the spirit of our ancestors, they left us this land and these beautiful minerals that were in the middle of this oil plain,” he says. “The oil and gas on Fort Berthold, it’s a blessing and it’s a curse. If we don’t do it right and we let the oil run over us… it’ll be a curse.”

The reservation’s roads are old and narrow and definitely not made to withstand the constant back and forth of 2500-plus large oil tankers and trucks needed to ferry the day’s yield.

The profits of the boom haven’t been able to keep up with the traffic however, which is why the tribes want to renegotiate their tax agreement with the state.

The agreement has seen North Dakota receive over $43 million in taxes in the past three years from the reservation’s oil and natural gas – which is in addition to profits from oil and gas off the reservation. The tribes have received only $19 million.

Not blind to the budget war in Washington, chairman Hall knows that renegotiating the agreement in the tribes’ favour is one of the only ways to ensure the reservation’s infrastructure can keep pace with the drilling and development.

And it’s not the only fight the tribes have to wage. After sparring with the state government comes the next front – Federal Indian Law.

The US government manages nearly 23 million hectares owned by tribes or individual Native Americans in trust – meaning the government is responsible for protecting and managing the income and royalties made from activities such as grazing, timber, oil and gas on that land for the owner.

Dating back to a 19th century law, the relationship also makes it necessary for the land owner to have federal approval to sell or lease their own property. It has been the source of problems for many tribes across the country, Fort Berthold’s residents being no exception.

“Our lands are held in trust. If there’s oil development going on, they have a duty to count the royalties and to pay out in a timely manner. Six months, one year, two years are not a timely manner,” Hall says.

“We have elders who have been waiting for this wonderful blessed opportunity and people, not even elders – younger people – dying before they get a chance to help themselves or their family because some bureaucrat is sitting on their royalty check somewhere and not processing it?”

Following pressure from North Dakota senator Byron Dorgan, now retired, the department of the interior cleared a backlog last fall of about $5 million dollars in delayed royalties to the tribes. Some of the payments were delayed for more than a year.

Costs to the land

But for others, the problems run deeper than money and beyond the headaches of government bureaucracy.

Walking across a hill that overlooks Fort Berthold’s Lake Sakakawea, Tribe member Kandi Mossett wonders if the environmental price of extracting oil and gas is too high.

“My main concern is with the water and the amount of water that is being used for the hydraulic fracturing process,” says Mossett, who works with the Indigenous Environmental Network. “The problem is that this is our drinking water, and there are already stories in Killdeer about water and drinking wells being contaminated.”

The concern that many have with hydraulic fracturing, which is the main method of drilling and extraction for the area, is the proximity to underground sources of drinking water.

In order to extract the oil and natural gas in underground formations like the Bakken, a combination of water, chemicals and sand is blasted into the rock to allow the oil or natural gas to escape.

But due to a provision in the US Energy Policy Act of 2005, chemicals and fluids used in hydraulic fracturing are exempt from regulations of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

That provision is known as the “Halliburton loophole”, due to the fact that oil giant Halliburton, one of the largest providers of hydraulic fracturing services, was one of the main companies lobbying for exemption.

The provision did keep diesel fuel under EPA regulations when used in hydraulic fracturing, but even that seems to have slipped through the cracks.

A recent investigation by Democrats on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce found that oil and gas companies injected over 32 million gallons of diesel fuel into wells in 19 states between 2005 and 2009 – over 3 million of those gallons were in North Dakota. The investigation also found that no companies sought or applied for permits for the diesel fuel.

“Fracking”, as it is often called, is not just a problem for communities in North Dakota, but across the country, where there are other large shale formations, particularly in New York, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

“Are we going to be able to drink our water in 50 years? Are we going to be able to swim in our water?” asks RJ Smith, a young Hidatsa man who lives in the town of Twin Buttes.

“There are a lot of us that believe in renewable energy, believe in actually watching out for our environment. There can be a happy medium between the oil companies and the environment – as long as they meet the regulations, as long as they are regulated and things are watched out for. There is no reason why they can’t leave the land the way they got it.”

Democrats are pursuing legislation that would reverse the 2005 exemption given to “fracking”. And the EPA is currently conducting a study of the possible risks from hydraulic fracturing to drinking water and groundwater, but it will not be made public until 2012.

By the end of this year alone, Fort Berthold expects to have tripled the number of wells on the reservation.

The path to self-sufficiency?

Mossett believes the environmental costs of the drilling are not worth economic benefits. At the same time, she is not naive to the necessity of financial security and the simultaneous challenge that poses to changing people’s minds about the risks of the boom.

“My family, a lot of them work in the oil industry,” she says. “My brother works for the companies, and he says he wishes he didn’t have to, but he has to put food on the table. He’s got to pay the bills.”

“It’s really hard because I don’t want my friends to not have a job and not to make money, but I don’t want people to suffer from the consequences.”

Hall says he knows the consequences of insufficient environmental regulation, but that the tribal council is being vigilant. For him, the consequence that looms darkest is not pursuing the stability provided by the profits of the oil and natural gas. It’s a concern firmly rooted in the tribes’ history.

In the late 1940s, the US government built a dam on the reservation, which led to the displacement and relocation of more than 900 tribe families. The Garrison Dam also flooded over 61,000 hectares of Fort Berthold’s land, which comprised over 90% of the tribes’ prime agricultural land.

“Before the 1948 Garrison Dam, we were a totally self-sufficient economy, and they took it away from us,” Hall says, gesturing to a black and white photo taken the day the agreement was signed for the Dam.  The tribes’ chairman at the time, George Gillette, is seen holding his face in his hand, weeping.

“We’re in charge now and we have a duty and a responsibility to learn from the past, to see what happened in 1948 when they almost wiped us out. We have to learn from all of those parts of history and say, we should develop ourselves and do it in a way that’s not only good for our people but for several generations. And that means reclaiming, and it doesn’t mean reclaiming with wheat or oats.”

Looking to the past is what drives Mossett’s view of what lies ahead as well.

“I’ve thought about our land and our future and why we are doing this. We’re supposed to be native people, we’re supposed to be stewards of the land,” Mossett says. “We have our chiefs on the wall at the tribal building and I’m wondering what they’re thinking, about what they would have thought if they saw this happen. They fought and died so that we could keep our lands, only to have them destroyed now?”

This is the struggle of finding a balance in the way the tribes develop their economy, weighing livelihoods against the potential toll on the land while history leaps between the two.

As rigs and wells spread across the plains, the tribes of Fort Berthold are left to wonder what they will leave for the next generation when the sun rises.

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