Bakken Shale

Fri, 2015-04-17 04:58Steve Horn
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"Carbon Copy": How Big Oil and King Coal Ghost Write Letters for Public Officials, Business Groups

The Billings Gazette has revealed that coal mining company Cloudpeak Energy ghost wrote protest letters to the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) on behalf of allied policymakers and business groups. 

Reporter Tom Lutey examined numerous letters written to DOI from Montana-based stakeholders and noticed something unusual: the language in every single letter was exactly the same. That is, the same except for a parenthetical note in one of them instructing the supposed writer of it to “insert name/group/entity.”

The “carbon copied” (pun credit goes to Lutey) letters requested for the DOI to give states a time extension to begin implementing new rules dictating the coal industry give states a “fair return” on mining leases granted to industry by the states. DOI ended up giving King Coal the 60-day extension.

“Last month, coal proponents scored a major victory by convincing the Department of Interior to hold off on its rule making for 60 days so that more people could respond,” Lutey wrote. “Members of the Montana Legislature, along with county commissioners and mayors from Montana and Wyoming communities put the weight of their political offices behind letters asking the DOI for more time. What they didn’t offer were their own words.”

Among those who submitted a “carbon copied” letter originally written by Cloudpeak Energy include the Montana Chamber of Commerce, Billings Chamber of Commerce, Montana Coal Council, Montana Sen. Debby Barrett and the Yellowstone County Board of Commissioners.  

Unlike others, the Montana Chamber of Commerce embarassingly forgot to take out the boilerplate “insert name/group/entity” language. 

Montana Chamber of Commerce Ghostwriting Coal Letter
Image Credit: Quit Coal

Cloud Peak responded by saying this was a “sample letter…included as part of…briefings,” but did not clarify if those allied stakeholders were supposed to send them to DOI in verbatim fashion, as did the Montana Chamber.

Tue, 2015-04-07 04:58Steve Horn
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BNSF Challenges Lawsuit From Engineer Who Ran For His Life From Exploding Oil "Bomb Train"

Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) has responded defensively to the oil-by-rail lawsuit filed by former BNSF locomotive engineer Bryan Thompson, a case recently reported on by DeSmogBlog.

BNSF — the top rail carrier of oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in North Dakota's Bakken Shale basin — denied all charges. The company also argued that some federal laws protect the company from liability for injuries allegedly suffered by Thompson. 

The  Answer to the Complaint signals the likelihood of a protracted legal battle ahead. Lee A. Miller, a Minneapolis, Minnesota-based attorney representing BNSF against Thompson, filed the company's response in Cass County, North Dakota. 

Miller argued that the damages allegedly suffered by Thompson — which include Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from living through and running away from the December 2013 Casselton, North Dakota oil train explosion — were “caused or contributed to by Plaintiff's own contributory or sole fault.”

He also argued that the explosion occurred due to “unknown causes for which BNSF is not responsible” and “are the result of acts or omissions of persons, entities, or corporations other than BNSF…over whom” they have “no control or right to control at the time of the alleged incident.”

BNSF Responds to Former Engineer Lawsuit
Image Credit: State of North Dakota District Court; East Central Judicial District

Thu, 2015-04-02 13:54Steve Horn
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BNSF Engineer Who Manned Exploding North Dakota "Bomb Train" Sues Former Employer

A Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) employee who worked as a locomotive engineer on the company's oil-by-rail train that exploded in rural Casselton, North Dakota in December 2013 has sued his former employer

Filed in Cass County, the plaintiff Bryan Thompson alleges he “was caused to suffer and continues to suffer severe and permanent injuries and damages,” including but not limited to ongoing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) issues.

Thompson's attorney, Thomas Flaskamp, told DeSmogBlog he “delayed filing [the lawsuit until now] primarily to get an indication as to the direction of where Mr. Thompson's care and treatment for his PTSD arising out of the incident was heading,” which he says is still being treated by a psychiatrist.

The lawsuit is the first of its kind in the oil-by-rail world, the only time to date that someone working on an exploding oil train has taken legal action against his employer using the Federal Employers' Liability Act.

BNSF Engineer Casselton Lawsuit

Image Credit: State of North Dakota District Court; East Central Judicial District

Tue, 2015-03-24 15:58Steve Horn
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Purposeful Distraction? Unpacking the Oil Refiners' "Bomb Trains" Lawsuit vs. Warren Buffett's BNSF

On March 13, American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM) — the oil refiners' trade association — sued oil-by-rail carrying giant Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) for allegedly violating its common carrier obligation under federal law. A DeSmogBlog investigation has revealed there may be more to the lawsuit than initially meets the eye.

Filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division, AFPM sued BNSF “for violating its common carrier obligation by imposing a financial penalty” for those carrying oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in North Dakota's Bakken Shale basin and other hazardous petroleum products in explosion-prone DOT-111 rail cars.

AFPM's beef centers around the fact that BNSF began imposing a $1,000 surcharge for companies carrying explosive Bakken fracked oil in DOT-111 cars, as opposed to “safer” CPC-1232 cars, at the beginning of 2015.

The Warren Buffett-owned BNSF did so, argues AFPM, illegally and without the authority of the federal government.

“This $1,000 surcharge on certain PHMSA-authorized rail cars breaches BNSF’s common carrier duty to ship hazardous materials under the auspices of PHMSA’s comprehensive regime governing hazardous materials transportation,” wrote AFPM's legal team, featuring a crew of Hogan Lovells attorneys. “Allowing railroads to penalize companies that ship crude oil in federally-authorized rail cars would circumvent PHMSA’s statutory and regulatory process for setting rail car standards for hazardous materials shipments.”

Upon a quick glance, it seems like a fairly straight-forward case of federal law and an intriguing example of an intra-industry dispute. But as recent history has proven, the devil is in the details.

Wed, 2015-03-04 19:03Steve Horn
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Iowa Republican Lawmaker: Rick Perry’s Involvement With Bakken Oil Pipeline “A Bad Idea”

By David Goodner and Steve Horn 

Everyday Iowa voters are less likely to caucus for former Texas governor and potential presidential candidate Rick Perry “because of his involvement” with a controversial oil pipeline proposal, according to an influential state lawmaker who has made eminent domain one of his signature issues in the Iowa House of Representatives.

Politically speaking, I am not sure there is as much upside for him to be involved as there is downside,” Iowa state representative Bobby Kaufmann (R-Wilton) told DeSmogBlog. “People would likely not vote for him for being involved with the pipeline.” 

Last month, DeSmogBlog broke news that Perry’s appointment to the Board of Directors of Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) could cost him support in the Iowa Caucuses. Energy Transfer Partners is a Texas-based company whose subsidiary, Dakota Access, LLC, has petitioned the state of Iowa to build a pipeline to transport up to 575,000 barrels per day of oil obtained from North Dakota's Bakken Shale via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”)

Kaufmann’s statement to DeSmogBlog marks the first public criticism of Perry on this issue by a sitting Republican lawmaker. It also comes on the heels of Perry’s scheduled March 7 return to Iowa to speak at the Iowa Ag Summit alongside other likely Republican presidential candidates.

Kaufmann’s remarks to DeSmogBlog also come in the aftermath of Iowa’s paper of record, The Des Moines Register, releasing a poll finding that 74 percent of Iowans are opposed to the use of eminent domain to build the pipeline.

I think any presidential candidate’s association with eminent domain could be unhelpful” to them in the Iowa Caucuses, Kaufmann said. 

Wed, 2015-02-25 04:58Sharon Kelly
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As Oil Prices Collapse, North Dakota Considers Weakening Standards on Radioactive Drilling Waste

As the collapse of oil prices threatens North Dakota's shale drilling rush, state regulators are considering a move they say could save the oil industry millions of dollars: weakening the state's laws on disposing of radioactive waste.

The move has been the subject of an intensive lobbying effort by drillers, who produce up to 75 tons per day of waste currently considered too hazardous to dispose of in the state.

For every truckload of that waste, drillers could save at least $10,000 in hauling costs, they argue. State regulators calculate that by raising the radioactive waste threshold ten-fold, the industry would shave off roughly $120 million in costs per year.

But many who live in the area say they fear the long-term consequences of loosened disposal rules combined with the state's poor track record on preventing illegal dumping.

“We don't want to have when this oil and coal is gone, to be nothing left here, a wasteland, and I'm afraid that's what might happen,” farmer Gene Wirtz of Underwood, ND told KNX News, a local TV station. “Any amount of radiation beyond what you're already getting is not a good thing.”

Environmental groups have also objected that the rule change would put private companies' profits before public health.

“The only reason we're doing this today is to cut the oil industry's costs,” Darrell Dorgan, spokesman for the North Dakota Energy Industry Waste Coalition, which opposes the move, told Reuters.

Tue, 2015-02-17 15:55Guest
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VIDEO: Young Iowan Questions Rick Perry on Fracked Oil Pipeline Ties at Town Hall Meeting

By David Goodner

When 24-year old Iowa native Kevin Rutledge first heard that former Texas governor and potential Republican Party presidential candidate Rick Perry had been appointed to the Board of Directors of Energy Transfer Partners, which is attempting to build a pipeline carrying oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale through his home state, he was hopping mad.

So on February 16, Rutledge decided to drive three hours from Des Moines to Sioux City, Iowa and ask Rick Perry face-to-face about his ties to the company during a town hall meeting at Morningside College.

Rutledge is from Ottumwa, Iowa and the proposed route of a new Dakota Access crude oil pipeline would cut right through the heart of the southeast Iowa county where he grew up, potentially impacting his home community with oil spills, polluted waterways, and damaged farmland.

Iowans and Americans are tired of not being listened to because we don’t have millions of dollars to influence politicians,” Rutledge told DeSmogBlog. “I heard about ties between Rick Perry, Iowa Governor [Terry] Branstad, and the Bakken oil pipeline and immediately knew this was an opportunity for me to ask him a question about it and bring this issue into light.”

Sun, 2015-02-08 19:41Guest
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GOP Activists: Rick Perry's Bakken Oil Pipeline Ties Could Cost Him Iowa Caucus Support

By David Goodner

Former Texas governor Rick Perry's recent appointment to the board of Energy Transfer Partners, a company attempting to build a Bakken oil pipeline through Iowa, could hurt him in the first-in-the-nation Republican Party caucus if he decides to run for president, according to a conservative Iowa Republican activist and a DeSmog analysis of the political landscape.

Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) appointed Perry to its Board of Directors on February 3. ETP is a Texas-based company whose subsidiary corporation, Dakota Access, LLC, has petitioned the state of Iowa to build a pipeline carrying up to 575,000 barrels per day of oil obtained via North Dakota's Bakken Shale basin hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) fields.  

The news about Perry's board appointment and its tie-in to the Iowa Caucus highlights the complicated terrain the issue will create for some Republicans in Iowa. It is a “political hot potato,” as DeSmog's Steve Horn wrote, and it is possible questions about the pipeline will arise in caucus politics leading up to 2016.  

Permitting plans in Iowa by Energy Transfer Partners and Dakota Access, LLC have sparked resistance from environmental activists and family farmers, the latter of whom often vote Republican, as well as from the libertarian wing of the GOP. Libertarian Republicans are often concerned about property rights and the potential abuse by government of eminent domain laws to confiscate private land for corporate profit.

“If Rick Perry is going to compete in Iowa this year, this could definitely be a big factor that could hurt him,” Jeff Shipley, a young Republican from Fairfield, Iowa, told DeSmogBlog. Shipley is a Republican activist, organizer, and former statehouse candidate for the Iowa GOP who has worked on presidential campaigns and with county and state party leaders for years. His home in Fairfield is located in Jefferson County, one of 18 Iowa counties sitting along the proposed pipeline route.

Jeff Shipley Iowa
Photo Credit: Shipley for Iowa

“This is a for-profit corporation that is going to try and use the force of government to steal farmers property,” Shipley told DeSmogBlog. “That runs contrary to typical conservative values.”

Fri, 2015-02-06 17:28Steve Horn
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Facing Felony Charges, Rick Perry Joins Board of Energy Transfer Partners, Owner of Proposed Oil Pipeline Across Iowa

Additional Reporting by David Goodner

Former Texas Republican Governor Rick Perry has joined the board of directors at Energy Transfer Partners, a natural gas and propane company headquartered in Dallas, Texas that has proposed to build a controversial Bakken crude oil pipeline across Iowa.

The announcement, which appeared in Energy Transfer Partners' February 3 Form 8-K filing to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), comes as Perry faces two Texas state-level felony charges for abuse of power. Perry pleaded not guilty to both charges and District Judge Bert Richardson recently ruled against dismissing Perry's case.  

“It isn't immediately clear how much Perry will be paid for his board position,” explained the Texas Tribune. “According to regulatory filings published on the company's website, non-employee board directors were paid $50,000 a year in 2013.”

Despite the felony charges, Perry is still strongly considering a 2016 presidential run, according to a recent article published by the Associated Press, which reported he may make a final decision on whether or not to run by May. 

The Energy Transfer Partners filing to the SEC describes Perry's appointment: 

Item 5.02. Departure of Directors or Certain Officers; Election of Directors; Appointment of Certain Officers; Compensatory Arrangements of Certain Officers.
On February 3, 2015, James R. (Rick) Perry was appointed as a director of Energy Transfer Partners, L.L.C., the general partner of Energy Transfer Partners GP, L.P., which is the general partner of Energy Transfer Partners, L.P. (the “Partnership”). Mr. Perry served as the Governor of Texas from 2000 until 2015.
 
There are no arrangements or understandings with the Partnership, or any other persons, pursuant to which Mr. Perry was appointed as a director of Energy Transfer Partners, L.L.C. Mr. Perry is not currently expected to be named to any committees of the board of directors of Energy Transfer Partners, L.L.C. At this time, the Partnership is not aware of any transactions, since the beginning of the Partnership’s last fiscal year, or any currently proposed transactions, in which the Partnership was or is to be a participant involving amounts exceeding $120,000, and in which Mr. Perry had or will have a direct or indirect material interest. Consistent with other non-employee members of the Board of Directors, Mr. Perry will be eligible to receive cash compensation for his service on the Board of Directors and equity compensation under the Second Amended and Restated 2008 Long-Term Incentive Plan, as described in the Definitive Proxy Statement on Schedule 14A filed by the Partnership with the SEC on October 24, 2014.
 
Fri, 2015-01-23 04:58Steve Horn
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Federal Court Order: Explosive DOT-111 "Bomb Train" Oil Tank Cars Can Continue to Roll

A U.S. federal court has ordered a halt in proceedings until May in a case centering around oil-by-rail tankers pitting the Sierra Club and ForestEthics against the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). As a result, potentially explosive DOT-111 oil tank cars, dubbed “bomb trains” by activists, can continue to roll through towns and cities across the U.S. indefinitely.  

“The briefing schedule previously established by the court is vacated,” wrote Chris Goelz, a mediator for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. “This appeal is stayed until May 12, 2015, or pending publication in the Federal Register of the final tank car standards and phase out of DOT-111 tank cars, whichever occurs first.”

Order to Delay DOT-111 Bomb Trains Case
Image Credit: U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

Filing its initial petition for review on December 2, the Sierra Club/ForestEthics lawsuit had barely gotten off the ground before being delayed.

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