Michigan

Wed, 2013-11-27 10:58Steve Horn
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Firm with History of Spill Cover-Ups Hired to Clean Up North Dakota Oil Spill

Tesoro Logistics — the company whose pipeline spilled more than 800,000 gallons of fracked Bakken Shale oil in rural North Dakota in September — has hired infamous contractor Witt O'Brien's to oversee its clean-up of the biggest fracked oil spill in U.S. history.

The oil was obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in the Bakken Shale basin.

As revealed after ExxonMobil hired the same firm in the aftermath of a 210,000-gallon tar sands oil spill in April 2013, Witt O'Brien's — formerly known as OOPS, Inc. — is a firm with a history of oil spill cover-ups dating back to the Exxon Valdez oil spillIt also oversaw the spraying of toxic oil dispersants into the Gulf of Mexico during BP's summer 2010 mega-spill and a literal cover-up of Enbridge's massive “dilbit disaster” tar sands pipeline spill in Michigan. 

Witt O'Brien's also won a $300,000 contract to develop an emergency response plan for TransCanada’s Keystone XL tar sands export pipeline in August 2008.

The same firm is now maintaining Tesoro's website dedicated to offering updates — also known as crisis communications management — for the massive spill's recovery efforts at TesoroAlert.com

Buried at the bottom of the website is a mention that the site is “powered by the PIER System.” PIER — short for “Public Information Emergency Response” — is owned by Witt O'Brien's.

Screen Shot Taken Nov. 25, 2013

Wed, 2013-11-20 03:25Steve Horn
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Fracking Lobby ANGA's Tax Forms: Big Bucks to Media Outlets, "Other ALECs"

America's Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA) - the public relations arm of the oil and gas fracking industry - has released its 2012 Internal Revenue Services (IRS) 990 form, and it's rich with eye-opening revelations, some of which we report here for the first time. 

Incorporated as American Natural Gas Alliance, Inc., ANGA received $76.7 million from its dues-paying members for fiscal year 2012. Not strictly a lobbying force alone at the state-level and federal-level, ANGA has pumped millions of dollars into public relations and advertising efforts around the country and hundreds of thousands more into other influence-peddling avenues. 

The Nation Magazine's Lee Fang revealed in a recent piece that ANGA gave $1 million in funding to “Truthland,” a pro-fracking film released to fend off Josh Fox's “Gasland: Part II.”

On its website, “Truthland” says it is a project of both industry front group Energy in Depth and the trade association, Independent Petroleum Association of America. The “Truthland” website was originally registered in Chesapeake Energy's office, Little Sis revealed.

Fang also revealed ANGA gave $25,000 to “ASGK Strategies, a political consulting firm founded by White House advisor David Axelrod,” as well as “$864,673 to Edventures Partners, an education curriculum company that has partnered with ANGA to produce classroom materials that promote the use of natural gas.”

Mon, 2013-08-26 14:26Carol Linnitt
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Official Price of the Enbridge Kalamazoo Spill, A Whopping $1,039,000,000

Enbridge Kalamazoo oil spill

The largest onshore oil spill in US history - Enbridge's ruptured Line 6B that released nearly 3 million liters of tar sands diluted bitumen into a tributary of the Kalamazoo River in Michigan - finally has an official price tag: $1,039,000,000 USD. That's according to newly disclosed figures released by Enbridge in a Revised Application to expand another one of its pipelines, the Alberta Clipper.

The total cost, which includes clean up and remediation, was topped off with an additional $3,699,200 fine levied by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). According to the docket, Enbridge violated several laws involving pipeline management, procedural manuals for operations and maintenance, public awareness, accident reporting and qualifications among others.

The spill, which went unaddressed for over 17 hours, was exacerbated by Enbridge's failed response according to the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). At a hearing last year the NTSB's chair Deborah Hersman likened the company to a band of Keystone Kops for their bungled response, which included twice pumping additional crude into the line - accounting for 81 percent of the total release - before initiating emergency shut down. The disaster revealed numerous internal problems within Enbridge that were further described by the NTSB as “pervasive organizational failures.”

Tue, 2013-07-30 09:55Derek Leahy
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Kalamazoo Spill Anniversary Raises Concerns About Line 9 Pipeline Integrity

Kalamazoo oil spill

Last week marked the third anniversary of the largest inland oil spill in US history. On July 25th, 2010 a 41-year old Enbridge pipeline in Michigan tore open spewing over three million litres of diluted tar sands bitumen or dilbit from Alberta into the Kalamazoo River and the surrounding area. Three years later the spill from the Enbridge pipeline known as Line 6B is still being cleaned up with the cost nearing one billion US dollars.

The Kalamazoo spill drew wide spread attention to the dangers of shipping dilbit through North America's oil pipeline system. Now environmental organizations and residents of Ontario and Quebec fear Enbridge's plan to ship dilbit from Sarnia, Ontario to Montreal, Quebec through the 37-year old Line 9 pipeline. They worry this will put their communities at the centre of the next 'dilbit disaster.'
 
“What happened at Kalamazoo could happen here with Line 9,” says Sabrina Bowman a climate campaigner with Environmental Defence based in Toronto.
 
“People in Ontario and Quebec need to know the Line 9 pipeline is very similar in age and design to the ruptured Line 6B in Kalamazoo,” Bowman told DeSmog Canada.
 
Sat, 2013-04-13 05:30Steve Horn
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Arkansas Hires Notorious Private Contractor To Clean Up Mayflower Tar Sands Spill, Same Firm Also Contracted For KXL

Arkansas' Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has contracted out the “independent analysis of the cleanup” of the ExxonMobil Pegasus tar sands pipeline spill to Witt O'Brien's, a firm with a history of oil spill cover-ups, a DeSmogBlog investigation reveals. 

At his April 10 press conference about the Mayflower spill response, AG McDaniel confirmed that Exxon had turned over 12,500 pages of documents to his office resulting from a subpoena related to Exxon's response to the March 29 Pegasus disaster. A 22-foot gash in the 65-year-old pipeline spewed over 500,000 gallons of tar sands dilbit through the streets of Mayflower, AR

McDaniel also provided the media with a presser explaining that his office had “retained the assistance of Witt O’Brien’s, a firm whose experts will immediately begin an independent analysis of the cleanup process.” 

Witt O'Brien's describes itself as a “global leader in preparedness, crisis management and disaster response and recovery with the depth of experience and capability to provide services across the crisis and disaster life cycle.”

But the firm's actual performance record isn't quite so glowing. O'Brien's has had its hands in the botched clean-up efforts of almost every high-profile oil spill disaster in recent U.S. history, including the Exxon Valdez spill, the BP Deepwater Horizon spill, the Enbridge tar sands pipeline spill into the Kalamazoo River, and Hurricane Sandy. 

Most troubling of all, Witt O'Brien's won a “$300k+ contract to develop a Canadian-US compliant Oil Spill Emergency Response Plan for TransCanada’s Keystone Oil Pipeline Project” in Aug. 2008.

Thus, if the Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline inevitably suffered a major spill, Witt O'Brien's would presumably handle the cleanup. That should worry everyone along the proposed KXL route.

Tue, 2013-01-29 05:00Steve Horn
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Congressmen Supporting LNG Exports Received $11.5 Million From Big Oil, Electric Utilities

On Jan. 25, 110 members of the U.S. House of Representatives - 94 Republicans and 16 Democrats - signed a letter urging Energy Secretary Steven Chu to approve expanded exports of liquified natural gas (LNG).

It was an overt sign of solidarity with the Obama Administration Department of Energy's (DOE) LNG exports study, produced by a corporate consulting firm with long ties to Big Tobacco named NERA Economic Consulting (NERA is short for National Economic Research Associates), co-founded in 1961 by the “Father of Deregulation,” Alfred E. Kahn. That study concluded exporting gas obtained from the controversial hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) process - sent via pipelines to coastal LNG terminals and then onto tankers - is in the best economic interests of the United States.  

A DeSmogBlog investigation shows that these 110 signatories accepted $11.5 million in campaign contributions from Big Oil and electric utilities in the run-up to the November 2012 election, according to Center for Responsive Politics data.

Big Oil pumped $7.9 million into the signatories' coffers, while the remaining $3.6 million came from the electric utilities industry, two industries whose pocketbooks would widen with the mass exportation of the U.S. shale gas bounty. Further, 108 of the 110 signers represent states in which fracking is occuring.  

Thu, 2012-12-06 17:00Steve Horn
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UT-Austin Administration Distances Itself from "Frackademia" Study

Weeks after SUNY Buffalo's upper-level administration gave the Shale Resources and Society Institute (SRSI) the boot due to its gas industry public relations effort masked as a “study,” University of Texas-Austin's (UT-Austin) administration has somewhat followed suit for its own “frackademia” study.

The decision comes in the aftermath of an independent review of a controversial study completed under UT-Austin's auspices. 

Like SRSI's “shill gas study,” UT-Austin brought itself attention when it published a “study” in February 2012 titled, “Separating Fact From Fiction in Shale Gas Development.” UT-Austin's study - conducted under the wings of its Energy Institute - claimed that there's “no scientific proof” that unconventional oil and gas developement can be linked to groundwater contamination.

As it turns out, the author's lead investigator, Charles “Chip” Groat is on the payroll of the oil and gas industry via Plains Exploration & Production, a direct conflict-of-interest under the standards of academia (not to be confused with those of “frackademia”). “Groat earned more than double his University of Texas salary as a PXP board member in 2011 – $413,900 as opposed to $173,273 – and he has amassed over $1.6 million in stock during his tenure there,” Public Accountability Initiative (PAIexplained in a report.

The embarassment created by these revelations moved Groat to retire after the spring semester, while the head of the Energy Institute, Raymond Orbach, stepped down today as head of the Institute, though he'll still remain on the UT-Austin faculty.  

Sat, 2012-07-14 06:00Ben Jervey
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Federal Investigation: "Complete Breakdown of Safety at Enbridge" Caused Kalamazoo River Tar Sands Oil Spill

 

It was the most expensive pipeline oil spill in the country’s history, the fallout from which still plagues the local communities, and government investigators have found that it was entirely preventable.

The National Transportation Safety Board released its findings from a two year investigation of the 2010 Enbridge tar sands crude pipeline spill (which DeSmogBlog has covered in depth) that dumped over a million gallons of toxic diluted bitumen (or DilBit) into the Kalamazoo River and its watershed.

Complete breakdown of safety.”

The report draws two very stark, clear conclusions about Enbridge’s culture of safety, or lack thereof.

First, Enbridge had known of corrosion and cracking along the 6B pipeline for five years, but the company refused to make repairs.

“Enbridge detected the very defect that led to this failure (in 2005),” said NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman, “…Yet for five years they did nothing to address the corrosion or cracking at the site, and the problem festered.” (You can watch video of the NTSB announcements here.)

Second, after the rupture, Enbridge employees had many opportunities to minimize the volume and impact of the spill, but failed repeatedly.

Fri, 2012-07-13 13:19Carol Linnitt
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Enbridge Mismanagement Caused Kalamazoo Tragedy, Says NTSB

Enbridge, the Canadian company poised to build the controversial Northern Gateway Pipeline, received a scathing assessment this week from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) after an inquiry into a 2010 pipeline rupture in Michigan revealed the company’s mismanagement of what unfolded into a “tragic and needless” disaster.

A combination of “human error” and miscommunication culminated in the reckless release of over 843,000 gallons of Albertan diluted bitumen from the Enbridge Line 6B into the Kalamazoo River. The investigation found that 81 percent of the tar sands oil spill was the result of the company’s baffling response to rupture alerts, which prompted monitors to pump additional oil into the line – twice – rather than close the line’s remote controlled valves. The rupture went undetected for over 17 hours, leading to the most expensive onshore clean up effort in American history, with a price tag approaching $800 million.
 
In her opening remarks, NTSB’s chair Deborah Hersman likened Enbridge to the incompetent Keystone Kops of silent film, suggesting their bewildering response amounted to nothing more than a pantomime. “Why didn’t they recognize what was happening,” Hersman asked. “What took so long?”
 
According to the Board’s investigation, Enbridge knew about the ailing condition of Line 6B for at least five years before the rupture. A 2005 report identified about 15,000 defects with the aging pipeline that extends for 471-kilometers from Ontario to Indiana. Although nearly 900 of those defects had since been addressed, the NTSB found the 2010 rupture was caused by external corrosion at a site overlooked during the course of repairs.
Fri, 2012-04-20 16:40Ben Jervey
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Must Read Muckrake on the Whistleblower Behind the Enbridge Tar Sands Pipeline Spill


On a midsummer evening in July of 2010, heavy crude started gushing from a 30-inch pipeline into Talmadge Creek, near Marshall, Michigan. By the next morning, heavy globs of oil soon were coating the Kalamazoo River, into which the Talmadge flows, and the stench of petroleum filled the air.

Enbridge, the Canadian company that owns and operates the ruptured pipeline 6B, made a lot of mistakes in the hours after the first gallons spilled. The disaster didn’t have to be so bad. Records of the official responses showed, for instance, that the company didn’t send someone to the site until the next morning. And that the Enbridge pipeline controllers increased pressure to the line, on a hunch that the funky signals they were getting was from a bubble, and not a spill.

When all was said and done, an estimated 1 million gallons of tar sands crude had leaked into the Kalamazoo River – ranked by the EPA as the largest spill in Midwestern history – with some oil flowing a full 40 miles down the river towards Lake Michigan.

Though the company that owns the pipeline, Enbridge, tried to deny it, the oil was soon revealed to be diluted bitumen (or DilBit), a form of tar sands crude that is thick and abrasive and can only be pumped through pipelines at enormously high pressure. DitBit is also, it turns out, much harder to clean up than regular old dirty crude. And that – the clean up – is where the story gets really complicated.

This week, OnEarth.org (where I’m also a blogger), published an incredible 3-part series about the Enbridge spill, the egregious mishandling of clean up efforts, and Enbridge’s deliberate cover-up of its shoddy, cheap, and reckless work. Written by Ted Genoways, who spent weeks on the ground in Michigan and accumulated over 100 hours of interviews, the piece is the sort of long form, old-fashioned, exhaustive muckraking that you don’t see nearly enough of these days.

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