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Ukraine: Challenging the pipelines narrative

Ukraine: Challenging the pipelines narrative.

by Alexis Rowell, originally published by Resilience.org  | MAR 11, 2014

As a former correspondent in Kiev, Moscow and Georgia at the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union, and as someone who has an ongoing interest in events in the former Soviet space, I would maintain that the attempt to link the Ukraine conflict with pipelines and natural resources is highly debatable. There are of course pipelines running through Ukraine transporting oil and gas from Russia to the West, and Crimea currently gets its oil, gas and much of its water from pipelines that flow from Ukraine, so they are important, but the idea that these pipelines, and natural resources in general, are in some way the cause of this conflict seems to me to be unfounded.

Most Moscow-watchers agree this conflict is about the limits of the Russian sphere of influence, the anxiety of Russia as it watches NATO and the EU expand up to its front door and stupid moves by the new Ukrainian government such as the dropping of the new language law. It’s about Russian pride, Putin’s vision of a Greater Russia, and Washington’s desire to keep pushing their views even when their interests are not really affected. It’s about competing nationalisms and Ukrainian clumsiness or worse.

Natural resources and pipelines are not causes, they are merely potential weapons – although who would actually win by using them can be hard to pin down. For example, Ukraine could stop Russia exporting gas to the West, or cut off gas and water to Crimea, but then Russia would close the stopcocks at the Ukrainian border thereby closing down Ukrainian businesses and making life unbearable in Ukrainian homes. Alternatively Russia could stop pumping gas to Ukraine, but then they would reduce their petro-euro earnings in Europe.

Most far-fetched of all is the idea that this conflict is in some way about Persian Gulf oil.

One article last week said Crimea would face difficulties without its connections to Ukraine. True, but those problems will be temporary and far fewer than the problems Ukraine is likely to experience. If Russia annexes Crimea, Crimea will, in time, be fine in terms of natural resources – just like Abkhazia and South Ossetia eventually were when they exited Georgia/were annexed by Russia. It may take a while, but Moscow will build a new bridge over the Kerch Strait that will carry water, oil, gas, goods, Russians and weapons. Until then the resources will arrive by boat and plane.

Ukraine, by contrast, will have enormous natural resource problems. Or rather Ukraine will have more problems than it already does because it has no natural resources except agricultural land.

A post-script on Crimea…
Of course, arguably Crimea is no more Russian than it is Ukrainian. The Cimmerians, Bulgars, Greeks, Scythians, Goths, Huns, Khazars, the state of Kievan Rus’, Byzantine Greeks, Kipchaks, Ottoman Turks, Golden Horde Tatars and the Mongols have all controlled Crimea. In the 13th century, it was partly controlled by the Venetians and by the Genoese. A Crimean Khanate emerged in the 15th century, which came under the protection of the Ottoman Empire until the 18th century when it became part of the Russian Empire. During the Russian Civil war it changed hands several times and was a stronghold and last stand of the anti-Bolshevik White Guard. From there it became part of the Russian Soviet Socialist Republic until Germany invaded during the Second World War. After the Germans were kicked out and Stalin had died, Crimea was transferred by Khrushchev to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1954, where it stayed until becoming part of independent Ukraine with the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Ukraine flag on painted on cracked wall via shutterstock. Reproduced at Resilience.org with permission.

Ukraine crisis is about Great Power oil, gas pipeline rivalry | Nafeez Ahmed | Environment | theguardian.com

Ukraine crisis is about Great Power oil, gas pipeline rivalry | Nafeez Ahmed | Environment | theguardian.com.

Ukraine crisis is about Great Power oil, gas pipeline rivalry

Resource scarcity, competition to dominate Eurasian energy corridors, are behind Russian militarism and US interference
Troops under Russian command at the Belbek airbase in Crimea, Ukraine

Troops under Russian command order Ukrainian soldiers to turn back before firing weapons into the air at Belbek airbase in Crimea. Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Russia‘s armed intervention in the Crimea undoubtedly illustrates President Putin’s ruthless determination to get his way in Ukraine. But less attention has been paid to the role of the United States in interfering in Ukrainian politics and civil society. Both powers are motivated by the desire to ensure that a geostrategically pivotal country with respect to control of critical energy pipeline routes remains in their own sphere of influence.

Much has been made of the reported leak of the recording of an alleged private telephone conversation between US assistant secretary of state Victoria Nuland and US ambassador to Kiev Geoffrey Pyatt. While the focus has been on Nuland’s rude language, which has already elicited US apologies, the more important context of this language concerns the US role in liaising with Ukrainian opposition parties with a view, it seems, to manipulate the orientation of the Ukrainian government in accordance with US interests.

Rather than leaving the future of Ukrainian politics “up to the Ukrainian people” as claimed in official announcements, the conversation suggests active US government interference to favour certain opposition leaders:

Nuland: Good. I don’t think [opposition leader] Klitsch should go into the government. I don’t think it’s necessary, I don’t think it’s a good idea.

Pyatt: Yeah. I guess… in terms of him not going into the government, just let him stay out and do his political homework and stuff. I’m just thinking in terms of sort of the process moving ahead we want to keep the moderate democrats together. The problem is going to be Tyahnybok [Oleh Tyahnybok, the other opposition leader] and his guys and I’m sure that’s part of what [President Viktor] Yanukovych is calculating on all this.

Nuland: [Breaks in] I think Yats is the guy who’s got the economic experience, the governing experience. He’s the… what he needs is Klitsch and Tyahnybok on the outside. He needs to be talking to them four times a week, you know. I just think Klitsch going in… he’s going to be at that level working for Yatseniuk, it’s just not going to work.

[…]

Nuland: OK. He’s [Jeff Feltman, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs] now gotten both [UN official Robert] Serry and [UN Secretary General] Ban Ki-moon to agree that Serry could come in Monday or Tuesday. So that would be great, I think, to help glue this thing and to have the UN help glue it and, you know, Fuck the EU.

Pyatt: No, exactly. And I think we’ve got to do something to make it stick together because you can be pretty sure that if it does start to gain altitude, that the Russians will be working behind the scenes to try to torpedo it.

As BBC diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus rightly observes, the alleged conversation:

“… suggests that the US has very clear ideas about what the outcome should be and is striving to achieve these goals… Washington clearly has its own game-plan…. [with] various officials attempting to marshal the Ukrainian opposition [and] efforts to get the UN to play an active role in bolstering a deal.”

But US efforts to turn the political tide in Ukraine away from Russian influence began much earlier. In 2004, the Bush administration had given $65 million to provide ‘democracy training’ to opposition leaders and political activists aligned with them, including paying to bring opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko to meet US leaders and help underwrite exit polls indicating he won disputed elections.

This programme has accelerated under Obama. In a speech at the National Press Club in Washington DC last December as Ukraine’s Maidan Square clashes escalated, Nuland confirmed that the US had invested in total “over $5 billion” to “ensure a secure and prosperous and democratic Ukraine” – she specifically congratulated the “Euromaidan” movement.

So it would be naive to assume that this magnitude of US support to organisations politically aligned with the Ukrainian opposition played no role in fostering the pro-Euro-Atlantic movement that has ultimately culminated in Russian-backed President Yanukovych’s departure.

Indeed, at her 2013 speech, Nuland added:

“Today, there are senior officials in the Ukrainian government, in the business community, as well as in the opposition, civil society, and religious community, who believe in this democratic and European future for their country. And they’ve been working hard to move their country and their president in the right direction.”

What direction might that be? A glimpse of an answer was provided over a decade ago by Professor R. Craig Nation, Director of Russian and Eurasian Studies at the US Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute, in a NATO publication:

“Ukraine is increasingly perceived to be critically situated in the emerging battle to dominate energy transport corridors linking the oil and natural gas reserves of the Caspian basin to European markets… Considerable competition has already emerged over the construction of pipelines. Whether Ukraine will provide alternative routes helping to diversify access, as the West would prefer, or ‘find itself forced to play the role of a Russian subsidiary,’ remains to be seen.”

A more recent US State Department-sponsored report notes that “Ukraine’s strategic location between the main energy producers (Russia and the Caspian Sea area) and consumers in the Eurasian region, its large transit network, and its available underground gas storage capacities”, make the country “a potentially crucial player in European energy transit” – a position that will “grow as Western European demands for Russian and Caspian gas and oil continue to increase.”

Ukraine’s overwhelming dependence on Russian energy imports, however, has had “negative implications for US strategy in the region,” in particular the strategy of:

“… supporting multiple pipeline routes on the East–West axis as a way of helping promote a more pluralistic system in the region as an alternative to continued Russian hegemony.”

But Russia’s Gazprom, controlling almost a fifth of the world’s gas reserves, supplies more than half of Ukraine’s, and about 30% of Europe’s gas annually. Just one month before Nuland’s speech at the National Press Club, Ukraine signed a $10 billion shale gas deal with US energy giant Chevron “that the ex-Soviet nation hopes could end its energy dependence on Russia by 2020.” The agreement would allow “Chevron to explore the Olesky deposit in western Ukraine that Kiev estimates can hold 2.98 trillion cubic meters of gas.” Similar deals had been struck already with Shell and ExxonMobil.

The move coincided with Ukraine’s efforts to “cement closer relations with the European Union at Russia’s expense”, through a prospective trade deal that would be a step closer to Ukraine’s ambitions to achieve EU integration. But Yanukovych’s decision to abandon the EU agreement in favour of Putin’s sudden offer of a 30% cheaper gas bill and a $15 billion aid package provoked the protests.

To be sure, the violent rioting was triggered by frustration with Yanukovych’s rejection of the EU deal, along with rocketing energy, food and other consumer bills, linked to Ukraine’s domestic gas woes and abject dependence on Russia. Police brutality to suppress what began as peaceful demonstrations was the last straw.

But while Russia’s imperial aggression is clearly a central factor, the US effort to rollback Russia’s sphere of influence in Ukraine by other means in pursuit of its own geopolitical and strategic interests raises awkward questions. As the pipeline map demonstrates, US oil and gas majors like Chevron and Exxon are increasingly encroaching on Gazprom’s regional monopoly, undermining Russia’s energy hegemony over Europe.

Ukraine is caught hapless in the midst of this accelerating struggle to dominate Eurasia’s energy corridors in the last decades of the age offossil fuels.

For those who are pondering whether we face the prospect of a New Cold War, a better question might be – did the Cold War ever really end?

Dr Nafeez Ahmed is executive director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development and author of A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilisation: And How to Save It among other books. Follow him on Twitter @nafeezahmed

Ukraine crisis is about Great Power oil, gas pipeline rivalry | Nafeez Ahmed | Environment | theguardian.com

Ukraine crisis is about Great Power oil, gas pipeline rivalry | Nafeez Ahmed | Environment | theguardian.com.

Ukraine crisis is about Great Power oil, gas pipeline rivalry

Resource scarcity, competition to dominate Eurasian energy corridors, are behind Russian militarism and US interference
Troops under Russian command at the Belbek airbase in Crimea, Ukraine

Troops under Russian command order Ukrainian soldiers to turn back before firing weapons into the air at Belbek airbase in Crimea. Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Russia‘s armed intervention in the Crimea undoubtedly illustrates President Putin’s ruthless determination to get his way in Ukraine. But less attention has been paid to the role of the United States in interfering in Ukrainian politics and civil society. Both powers are motivated by the desire to ensure that a geostrategically pivotal country with respect to control of critical energy pipeline routes remains in their own sphere of influence.

Much has been made of the reported leak of the recording of an alleged private telephone conversation between US assistant secretary of state Victoria Nuland and US ambassador to Kiev Geoffrey Pyatt. While the focus has been on Nuland’s rude language, which has already elicited US apologies, the more important context of this language concerns the US role in liaising with Ukrainian opposition parties with a view, it seems, to manipulate the orientation of the Ukrainian government in accordance with US interests.

Rather than leaving the future of Ukrainian politics “up to the Ukrainian people” as claimed in official announcements, the conversation suggests active US government interference to favour certain opposition leaders:

Nuland: Good. I don’t think [opposition leader] Klitsch should go into the government. I don’t think it’s necessary, I don’t think it’s a good idea.

Pyatt: Yeah. I guess… in terms of him not going into the government, just let him stay out and do his political homework and stuff. I’m just thinking in terms of sort of the process moving ahead we want to keep the moderate democrats together. The problem is going to be Tyahnybok [Oleh Tyahnybok, the other opposition leader] and his guys and I’m sure that’s part of what [President Viktor] Yanukovych is calculating on all this.

Nuland: [Breaks in] I think Yats is the guy who’s got the economic experience, the governing experience. He’s the… what he needs is Klitsch and Tyahnybok on the outside. He needs to be talking to them four times a week, you know. I just think Klitsch going in… he’s going to be at that level working for Yatseniuk, it’s just not going to work.

[…]

Nuland: OK. He’s [Jeff Feltman, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs] now gotten both [UN official Robert] Serry and [UN Secretary General] Ban Ki-moon to agree that Serry could come in Monday or Tuesday. So that would be great, I think, to help glue this thing and to have the UN help glue it and, you know, Fuck the EU.

Pyatt: No, exactly. And I think we’ve got to do something to make it stick together because you can be pretty sure that if it does start to gain altitude, that the Russians will be working behind the scenes to try to torpedo it.

As BBC diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus rightly observes, the alleged conversation:

“… suggests that the US has very clear ideas about what the outcome should be and is striving to achieve these goals… Washington clearly has its own game-plan…. [with] various officials attempting to marshal the Ukrainian opposition [and] efforts to get the UN to play an active role in bolstering a deal.”

But US efforts to turn the political tide in Ukraine away from Russian influence began much earlier. In 2004, the Bush administration had given $65 million to provide ‘democracy training’ to opposition leaders and political activists aligned with them, including paying to bring opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko to meet US leaders and help underwrite exit polls indicating he won disputed elections.

This programme has accelerated under Obama. In a speech at the National Press Club in Washington DC last December as Ukraine’s Maidan Square clashes escalated, Nuland confirmed that the US had invested in total “over $5 billion” to “ensure a secure and prosperous and democratic Ukraine” – she specifically congratulated the “Euromaidan” movement.

So it would be naive to assume that this magnitude of US support to organisations politically aligned with the Ukrainian opposition played no role in fostering the pro-Euro-Atlantic movement that has ultimately culminated in Russian-backed President Yanukovych’s departure.

Indeed, at her 2013 speech, Nuland added:

“Today, there are senior officials in the Ukrainian government, in the business community, as well as in the opposition, civil society, and religious community, who believe in this democratic and European future for their country. And they’ve been working hard to move their country and their president in the right direction.”

What direction might that be? A glimpse of an answer was provided over a decade ago by Professor R. Craig Nation, Director of Russian and Eurasian Studies at the US Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute, in a NATO publication:

“Ukraine is increasingly perceived to be critically situated in the emerging battle to dominate energy transport corridors linking the oil and natural gas reserves of the Caspian basin to European markets… Considerable competition has already emerged over the construction of pipelines. Whether Ukraine will provide alternative routes helping to diversify access, as the West would prefer, or ‘find itself forced to play the role of a Russian subsidiary,’ remains to be seen.”

A more recent US State Department-sponsored report notes that “Ukraine’s strategic location between the main energy producers (Russia and the Caspian Sea area) and consumers in the Eurasian region, its large transit network, and its available underground gas storage capacities”, make the country “a potentially crucial player in European energy transit” – a position that will “grow as Western European demands for Russian and Caspian gas and oil continue to increase.”

Ukraine’s overwhelming dependence on Russian energy imports, however, has had “negative implications for US strategy in the region,” in particular the strategy of:

“… supporting multiple pipeline routes on the East–West axis as a way of helping promote a more pluralistic system in the region as an alternative to continued Russian hegemony.”

But Russia’s Gazprom, controlling almost a fifth of the world’s gas reserves, supplies more than half of Ukraine’s, and about 30% of Europe’s gas annually. Just one month before Nuland’s speech at the National Press Club, Ukraine signed a $10 billion shale gas deal with US energy giant Chevron “that the ex-Soviet nation hopes could end its energy dependence on Russia by 2020.” The agreement would allow “Chevron to explore the Olesky deposit in western Ukraine that Kiev estimates can hold 2.98 trillion cubic meters of gas.” Similar deals had been struck already with Shell and ExxonMobil.

The move coincided with Ukraine’s efforts to “cement closer relations with the European Union at Russia’s expense”, through a prospective trade deal that would be a step closer to Ukraine’s ambitions to achieve EU integration. But Yanukovych’s decision to abandon the EU agreement in favour of Putin’s sudden offer of a 30% cheaper gas bill and a $15 billion aid package provoked the protests.

To be sure, the violent rioting was triggered by frustration with Yanukovych’s rejection of the EU deal, along with rocketing energy, food and other consumer bills, linked to Ukraine’s domestic gas woes and abject dependence on Russia. Police brutality to suppress what began as peaceful demonstrations was the last straw.

But while Russia’s imperial aggression is clearly a central factor, the US effort to rollback Russia’s sphere of influence in Ukraine by other means in pursuit of its own geopolitical and strategic interests raises awkward questions. As the pipeline map demonstrates, US oil and gas majors like Chevron and Exxon are increasingly encroaching on Gazprom’s regional monopoly, undermining Russia’s energy hegemony over Europe.

Ukraine is caught hapless in the midst of this accelerating struggle to dominate Eurasia’s energy corridors in the last decades of the age offossil fuels.

For those who are pondering whether we face the prospect of a New Cold War, a better question might be – did the Cold War ever really end?

Dr Nafeez Ahmed is executive director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development and author of A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilisation: And How to Save It among other books. Follow him on Twitter @nafeezahmed

Energy East pipeline a potential CO2 traffic jam, report says – Politics – CBC News

Energy East pipeline a potential CO2 traffic jam, report says – Politics – CBC News.

TransCanada CEO Russ Girling announces the company is moving forward with the 1.1 million barrel-per-day Energy East Pipeline project, at a news conference in Calgary, Aug. 1, 2013. A new report from environmental think-tank Pembina Institute believes Energy East would add 30 to 32 million tonnes of CO2 a year into the atmosphere.TransCanada CEO Russ Girling announces the company is moving forward with the 1.1 million barrel-per-day Energy East Pipeline project, at a news conference in Calgary, Aug. 1, 2013. A new report from environmental think-tank Pembina Institute believes Energy East would add 30 to 32 million tonnes of CO2 a year into the atmosphere. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

The greenhouse gas emissions from oil flowing through TransCanada Pipelines’ proposed Energy East project would be equivalent to putting seven million new cars a year on Canadian roads, according to a report from an environmental think-tank released today.

The Pembina Institute’s study looked at the potential upstream carbon pollution — that is, from the well to the refinery gate — from oil flowing through the pipeline and found that it could add anywhere from 30 to 32 million tonnes of CO2 a year to the atmosphere.

“For a single piece of infrastructure, that’s huge. It’s more than the emissions of five provinces,” explained Clare Demerse, Pembina’s federal policy director and co-author of the report.

“The single most effective climate policy today [in Canada] is Ontario’s decision to phase out coal [for generating electricity]. The emissions associated with building Energy East could effectively wipe out the gains of our single most effective climate policy by far,” she told CBC News.

Tune in to The National on CBC-TV tonight to hear how pipeline companies and environmentalists are changing their tactics in Canada’s energy infrastructure debate.

Energy East is planned to take both conventional and oilsands oil from Alberta to the deep-water port in Saint John. The project would convert an existing natural gas pipeline that runs to the Ontario-Quebec border to carry oil, then build a new pipeline the rest of the way. When running at full capacity, Energy East would eventually carry 1.1-million barrels of crude a day.

TransCanada has yet to file an application with the National Energy Board, but it is expected to do so in the middle of this year.

Demerse admits that this is a preliminary report and that it is hard to comment accurately on Energy East because so little detail is known about the project. Still, she said, Pembina wanted to start the conversation about it as soon as possible.

TransCanada said it wants to take a closer look at the numbers before it comments on the report. The pipeline company has already held information sessions about the project in communities along the route.

Mixed Messages: Clearing the Air on the Keystone XL environmental report | – Environmental Defence

Mixed Messages: Clearing the Air on the Keystone XL environmental report | – Environmental Defence.

Reaction was fast and furious to the State Department’s final report on the environmental impacts of TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline on Friday

Reaction was fast and furious to the State Department’s final report on the environmental impacts of TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline on Friday, and you couldn’t be blamed if you wondered if environmental groups, the oil and industry and government were responding to completely different reports.

While many headlines trumpeted the report as good news for Keystone XL backers, we believe it swung the pendulum towards a rejection of the pipeline by President Obama.

Why? Because President Obama says that he is committed to climate action, and the report is clear that in a world where climate change is taken seriously, the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would undoubtedly have a significant impact on climate change.

It is the President who will make the final decision to approve or reject the pipeline, and if he is serious about his commitment to climate action, this report gives him everything he needs to reject the pipeline.

The report looks at a series of scenarios and the climate impact of the pipeline in each one. In one of these scenarios, we are tackling climate change; demand for oil continues to drop in North America and the tar sands continue to face transportation constraints – not unlike the constraints they are facing today.

While the report still downplays the climate pollution, it is in this scenario that the pipeline would contribute most significantly to global carbon pollution, up to 5.7 million news cars or 7 coal-fired power plants worth of emissions per year.  The other scenarios are ones in which the global demand for oil is aligned with carbon emissions that would lead to dangerous global warming. The other scenarios are ones where we are not meaningfully tackling climate change.

If the President is committed to a safe climate future – it is one that does not include the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

The tar sands exist because of a perfect storm of conditions: a high oil price, no meaningful regulatory costs, and a world with little action on climate change. This is a set of conditions that is crumbling despite increasingly desperate efforts to keep this expensive and carbon intensive operation profitable. Industry and government know very well that pipelines, and especially Keystone XL, are the key to being able to lock in more expansion and more production.

While some who support the pipeline argue that tar sands oil will still be brought to market regardless of whether the pipeline is approved – namely by rail – the cost, lack of policy, public concern and logistics are enough for experts and industry alike to know that rail cannot replace pipelines. In fact, industry projections depend on approval of every pipeline on the table plus some rail to be able to triple tar sands product as planned by 2030.

Notably, the State Department itself threw cold water on the chances of Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline being built, stating that“…this project has been so derailed via political opposition, state determines ‘it remains uncertain at this time if the project would receive permits and be constructed and therefore… was eliminated from detailed analysis.”

Industry’s hopes for tar sands expansion are far from inevitable. Regardless of the Keystone outcome, it will never be easy to build another giant tar sands pipeline on this continent again.

Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time and the President has committed to doing everything he can to avoid the worst of it. The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is the test of his sincerity. It is the single biggest thing he could do as President to make it clear to Canada and the world that the era of reckless fossil fuel development is over. That a country – like Canada – can’t get away with leaving its fastest growing source of greenhouse gas pollution completely unregulated. That now is the time to be investing in smarter, cleaner energy, not locking ourselves into decade’s worth of some of the world’ most carbon intensive fuels with a new giant pipeline.

Last week in his State of the Union speech the President said, “Climate change is a fact. And when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.”

The reason we can be so optimistic about this report is that it gives the President the evidence he needs – if he is serious about the climate crises – to reject this pipeline, and leave a legacy of a clean energy future.

Analysis: Oil trains to keep rumbling through North America’s cities | Canada | Reuters

Analysis: Oil trains to keep rumbling through North America’s cities | Canada | Reuters.

A tanker with an inscription which reads, "empty and inspected", is pictured on the rail track in Lac-Megantic, November 21, 2013. REUTERS/Mathieu Belanger
1 of 1Full Size

By Solarina Ho

TORONTO (Reuters) – Mile-long trains carrying crude oil will likely keep chugging through North American cities even after a string of fiery disasters spurred safety officials to urge that railways send risky cargo along less populated routes.

Re-routing the crude-by-rail trains that support booming North American oil production would be hugely difficult given the location of major rail lines and lack of alternatives, industry watchers say, adding that skirting major centers carries different types of risks.

“In the U.S., rail built the West. Literally. The railroad came first, and then towns sprung up along the route. And so as a consequence, rail transit’s the heart of many of our cities and towns,” said Brigham McCown, a former chief counsel at the U.S. Department of Transportation and former head of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).

“It’s called the main line for a reason,” he added.

The dangers of sending crude by rail due to increasingly clogged pipelines were highlighted last July, when an unmanned, runaway train carrying crude crashed into Lac-Megantic, Quebec, leveling the heart of the small lakeside community and killing 47 people.

Last week, the U.S. and Canadian transportation safety boards, which can only suggest and not impose new rules, recommended more rigorous route planning for shipping crude and other flammable liquids.

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which urged that such shipments avoid populated areas, wants crude oil be added to a list of hazardous materials that already requires tougher routing protocols.

“We’re not asking for new rails to be built, we’re not asking for major modifications,” NTSB board member Robert Sumwalt told Reuters.

The thrust of the proposals is risk mitigation, not complete elimination, said Jason Kuehn, vice president for rail practice at management consulting firm Oliver Wyman, which makes route planning software used by Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd and CSX Corp.

Kuehn said existing routing regulations in the United States, which govern products such as anhydrous ammonia and chlorine gas, which are even more dangerous than crude oil, have been effective.

FEW ALTERNATIVES IN THE BAKKEN REGION

The Bakken oil fields of North Dakota pump out a type of crude that is more explosive and flammable than some others. It was involved at Lac-Megantic and in other major crashes last year.

But for Bakken oil headed to refineries in the east, alternative train routes are limited.

The most direct route eastward for Canadian Pacific and BNSF Railway Co, the two main railroads running through the Bakken region, is through Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, then Chicago.

“Getting oil from North Dakota to the refineries around Philly without going through Chicago, for one, is enormously difficult,” said Trains magazine writer Fred Frailey, who has followed the industry for more than three decades.

An alternative route for CP Rail, Canada’s second largest railroad, would require going north to Winnipeg, Manitoba, across Northern Ontario, southeast to Toronto and likely to Montreal before heading south to the United States. It’s a route that would swap Chicago for three of Canada’s largest cities.

CSX, which expects to ramp up U.S. crude shipments by 50 percent this year, mostly to East Coast refineries, said it already complies with federal routing guidelines for shipping the most hazardous materials.

“We will evaluate whether those protocols could be applied to oil shipments,” spokeswoman Melanie Cost said in an email.

“However, re-routing requires careful thought and analysis to make sure that hazardous materials operate over tracks that incorporate the most safety features, and that additional miles that may involve other risks are not added to shipments.”

Doniele Carlson, spokeswoman for Kansas City Southern, the smallest of U.S. Class I railroads, noted its network’s size limits routing options.

Some companies have rail lines that bypass city centers, traveling through the outskirts, but those tracks may not necessarily be equipped to handle a high-capacity load or trains traveling at higher speeds, industry experts said.

A crash in a less populated area might wreak less havoc, but emergency responders could take longer to reach a more remote site and may be less equipped to deal with it, they said.

Taking a circuitous route, or traveling on secondary tracks, will also mean a shipment of crude spends more time traveling longer distances, using more fuel, producing higher emissions, and costing more to ship.

“If you’re doubling the length that it takes to get from point A to B, you are potentially doubling the risk for an accident,” said transportation safety expert McCown.

The American Railroad Association and the Railway Association of Canada have said they support the recommendations to improve rail safety, but they declined to comment specifically about route planning. They point to an improving safety record.

The rate of main-track accidents has declined over the past 10 years in Canada and the United States, according to the most recent government data. In Canada, accidents fell 33 percent to 1.6 per million main-track train-miles in 2012, from 2.4 in 2011. In the United States, the main line accident rate fell some 20 percent to 0.8 in 2012, from 1.0 in 2011.

Canada had 2.6 accidents per million main-track train-miles in 2003. The United States had 1.5 in 2003.

But shipping companies are just as involved as the railways in deciding what cargoes are moved and how, and under government-mandated common carrier regulations, North American railroads are legally required to transport products they might otherwise choose to avoid.

“They’ve taken on an inordinate amount of the risk. Even though it’s not their car, and it’s not their product, and it might not have been loaded by them,” said Tony Hatch, independent transportation analyst at ABH Consulting.

“They don’t want to be on the front page of the paper unless it’s for opening a new terminal or cutting a ribbon.”

(Additional reporting by Kristen Hays in Houston; Editing by Jeffrey

Activist Post: West Virginia Health Officials Refuse to Accept Experts Findings on Elk River Contamination

Activist Post: West Virginia Health Officials Refuse to Accept Experts Findings on Elk River Contamination.

Chris Carrington
Activist Post

Even though the water in West Virginia has been declared safe, hospital admissions related to the spill have increased.

What has transpired is that the Center for Disease Control has set safety standards for pure MCHM (4-methylcyclohexaneemethol), but the stuff polluting the Elk River was far from pure. Containing a mix of up to seven chemicals, the crude MCHM that was discharged into the Elk River was something else entirely, and the CDC safety standards set for MCHM don’t cover it when mixed with other chemicals, what is referred to as crude MCHM.

Investigators still don’t know the full composition of the 10,000 gallon discharge into the Elk River. Freedom Industries, the company responsible with maintaining the storage tanks, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and, although hit with numerous law suits regarding the spill, they have been slow to provide information on the toxic cocktail that entered the river.

What is known is that water testing by the West Virginia Environmental Quality Board has shown that formaldehyde is present in the water supply. Scott Simonton of WVEQB said:

“I can guarantee that citizens in this valley are, at least in some instances, breathing formaldehyde. They’re taking a hot shower. This stuff is breaking down into formaldehyde in the shower or in the water system, and they’re inhaling it.”

“It’s frightening, it really is frightening,” the Charleston Gazette quoted Simonton telling state lawmakers. ”What we know scares us, and we know there’s a lot more we don’t know.”

He continued:

“We know that (crude MCHM) turns into other things, and these other things are bad,”.”And we haven’t been looking for those other things. So we can’t say the water is safe yet. We just absolutely cannot.”

Now that officials know other chemicals were present, they can start the process of hunting them down. The fear is that even though the all clear was given regarding the levels of pure MCHM, other chemicals, either singularly or in combination, could well be lurking in domestic pipes and tanks, and that those chemicals could break down into yet more harmful components.

For this reason residents have been told to flush their domestic systems to remove any lurking toxins, but even the best way to do that is open to dispute with experts disagreeing on the best method to use.

Andrew Welton, an environmental engineer from the University of South Alabama, went to West Virginia after the leak. He has been assisting residents to purge their systems, but using different guidelines to those used in West Virginia. For example, he recommends that residents should open windows and doors before starting the process and should use fans to remove fumes from homes. West Virginia officials say this is un-necessary.

Speaking to The West Virginia Gazette he said:

“I can’t believe they aren’t doing this. These issues aren’t being addressed. The long-term consequences of this spill are not being addressed.”

In another twist The commissioner of the Bureau of Public Health, Dr Letitia Tierney DISMISSED Simontons statement and said that the formaldehyde detected was unrelated to the chemical spill.

“Formaldehyde is naturally produced in very small amounts in our bodies as part of our normal, everyday metabolism and causes no harm,” Tierney’s statement said. “It can also be found in the air that we breathe at home and at work, in the food we eat, and in some products that we put on our skin.”

Simonton countered:

“Your level of what risk you will accept is up to you,” Simonton said. “I can only tell you what mine is, and I’m not drinking the water. (source)

While the arguing over who’s right and who’s wrong, it’s interesting to note that West Virginia officials are blaming the winter for some of the hospital admissions. Governor Earl Ray Tomblin’s office pointed to many reasons why hospital admissions are rising, namely the inability of a large number of people to wash their hands, which is an odd thing to say if they believe the water is safe to use. Or maybe they have washed their hands, and that’s why they are sick.

“We’re in the middle of flu and virus season,” Dr. Letitia Tierney of the state Bureau of Public Health said in the statement. “While the [hand] sanitizer is good for cleaning, it isn’t great for eliminating a virus. Some people are getting these viruses, as many people do every winter. In addition, a lot of people are getting very anxious. Anxiety is a real diagnosis, and it can be really hard on people and it’s OK to be seen by a health professional to ensure you’re OK.”

West Virginia health officials are playing around with the well-being of 300,000 people. It would be good if they could cut the crap and sort this situation out before someone dies.

Read more here and here.

Contributed by Chris Carrington of The Daily Sheeple where this article first appeared.

Chris Carrington is a writer, researcher and lecturer with a background in science, technology and environmental studies. Chris is an editor for The Daily Sheeple. Wake the flock up!

Testosterone Pit – Home – From “Glut” To Panic: Natural Gas Soars

Testosterone Pit – Home – From “Glut” To Panic: Natural Gas Soars.

On Friday, when stocks were plunging, natural gas soared 9.6% to $5.18 per million British thermal units (MMBtu) at the Henry Hub. Up 20% for the week. The highest close since June 2010.

Back then, the “shale gas revolution” had turned into a crazy no-holds-barred land-grab and fracking boom that veered into overproduction and a “glut” – accompanied by a historic collapse in price. The US could not export its excess production due to export restrictions and the lack of major LNG export terminals. By April 2012, when the Japanese were paying around $17 per MMBtu for LNG on the world markets, natural gas in the US hit a decade low of $1.92 per MMBtu, and predictions that it would go to zero showed up in the mainstream media. That was the bottom.

But nothing can be priced below the cost of production forever. By Friday, natural gas was up 170% from the April 2012 low. Turns out, only a low price can cure a low price.

The low price caused demand to creep up.

Gas exports via pipeline to Mexico have been growing, especially since additional pipeline capacity went into service last year. Mexico is switching power generation from using its own oil to cheap US natural gas. This allows it to export its more valuable oil to the US. Ka-ching. But building gas-fired generating capacity is a slow-moving process.

Other exports are also moving forward – in people’s heads. There are pipelines between the US and Canada, but the US is a net importer. Exports of LNG are at this point still a pipedream, so to speak, though deals are being made, contingent on getting government approvals to export LNG. It’s going to take years before LNG can be exported in large quantities.

But the low price had short-term and structural impacts. Utilities dispatched electricity generation from their coal-fired plants to their gas-fired plants. And there have been structural changes: utilities have built gas-fired power plants and have retired – not mothballed! – their oldest, most inefficient, and most polluting coal-fired power plants. Global industrial companies have been building plants in the US for energy-intensive processes and for processes that use natural gas as feed stock. Even natural gas in transportation is picking up.

The low price destroyed the business model for drillers.

Thousands of unprofitable wells litter the land. Many billions were written off. Real money that had been recklessly thrown around during the boom disappeared into the ground. Investors were lured with false promises. The bloodletting in the industry was enormous. Some of the largest drillers have pulled back from drilling for dry natural gas. Most of the wells that are still being drilled are in fields that are rich in natural-gas liquids and oil, which sell for much higher prices and make wells profitable. Dry natural gas has become a byproduct. In the immensely productive Bakken shale-oil field in North Dakota, where gas occurs along with oil, 30% of it is flared – burned at the well as a waste product. The low price doesn’t justify building pipelines to haul it off.

But shale gas wells have sharp decline rates, and new wells need to be drilled constantly to make up for the decline in older wells. These days, not enough wells are being drilled, and production in all gas plays combined – except for the Marcellus – is already in slight decline. The only production boom left is in the Marcellus: the “shale gas revolution” in the US is now a one-pony show.

In January 2012, according to Baker Hughes, there were 143 rigs drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus – the most prolific parts of which are in Pennsylvania. Today, there are 86. But during the drilling boom, someone forgot to install sufficient pipeline infrastructure. So, wells were shut in, perhaps thousands of them, a giant reservoir waiting for takeaway capacity. That was 2012. Last year, part of a new pipeline network went into service, and bottlenecks were removed, and the gas started flowing to New York City and other places. Drilling is down. Production – the delivery of gas to the markets – is soaring!

How long can it last? Well decline rates in the Marcellus are as steep as elsewhere, and this sudden burst in production, if not supported by a new bout of drilling, will taper off as it has in other fields. And that’s today’s one-pony show of the US “shale gas revolution.”

Then cold fronts swept across the country.

These polar vortices, as they’re now referred to for additional flair, have caused demand for gas as heating fuel to spike to record highs. And more bitter cold weather is being forecast. Natural gas in underground storage dropped to 2,423 billion cubic feet (Bcf) for the weekending January 17. The last time storage levels were this low during an equivalent week was in January 2005!

At the time, gas was selling for $12 to $14 per MMBtu and hit an all-time high of $15.40 in December that year. But demand has changed. In 2013, demand was over 18% higher than in 2005; this year, it might be over 20% higher [my article from nine days ago…. Natural Gas Squeeze? “Panic hasn’t ensued just yet”]. 

And the big money has jumped into the fray.

For years, the favorite game was to short natural gas, playing the glut for all it was worth, a sport that has gotten very complex and, if you get the timing wrong by a few hours, very expensive. Some of the spike late Friday, and some of the action all week, was due to a hard squeeze on these folks – as the big money arrived en masse.

On Wednesday, the big money went public. As reported by MarketWatch, Citi analysts wrote that, “With tight fundamentals, $5 gas is not impossible.” What had been obvious for a while, showed up in the media: “Strong demand is expected to push gas inventories to very low levels with cold weather lingering.” And the price took off once again.

Now everyone is bent over weather data, trying to figure out what nastiness the winter will still serve up, and they’re betting on the weather because cold snaps happen relatively fast and are observable. Watching the fundamentals is like watching paint dry. But it’s the fundamentals that have changed the equation. The polar vortices are merely speeding up the calculus.

Natural gas is famous for its head fakes, unexpected plunges when it should rise, and inexplicable rises when it should drop. It’s being manipulated in a myriad ways. It’s always a bet on the weather, except when it’s not. It can turn around in a second and cause whiplash. It’s a seatbelt-mandatory commodity. And once every few years, there is a panic, and it spikes to dizzying highs.

While natural gas was soaring on Friday, and all week, the rest of the markets were tanking, with emerging markets “trading in full-blown panic mode.” What gives? Read….  A Teeny-Weeny Bit Of Taper, And Look What Happened

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