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Elizabeth Douglass's articles

Ruptured Yellowstone Oil Pipeline Was Built With Faulty Welding in 1950s

Poor safety, defects may have added risks to pipeline that spilled up to 40,000 gallons of oil into the Yellowstone River.

Jan 22, 2015

This article has been updated on Jan. 22 at 7:00 PM to reflect new information about the pipeline segment that failed.

The aging Poplar Pipeline that spilled oil into the Yellowstone River in Montana on Saturday was built with pipe made using faulty welding techniques, and its owner has had a series of spills on the line. These two factors put the pipeline at a higher risk for problems.

First, the pipeline's owner, Bridger Pipeline LLC, has had nearly double the number of incidents per mile of pipe than the average company with pipelines carrying oil, gas or other hazardous liquids over the last six years, according to data compiled by the Pipeline Safety Trust. Federal records suggest that most of Bridger's incidents occurred on the Poplar line and were preventable.

Global Climate Fund on GOP's Budget Hit List

The money is a key component in the push for a global agreement this year to limit global warming.

Jan 14, 2015

The yearly battle over the U.S. budget officially begins on Feb. 2, when the president plans to send his fiscal 2016 funding proposal to Congress, where it will be torn to shreds or ignored entirely.

While the annual drama involves trillions of dollars, it's usually of limited interest to far-flung governments around the world. Not this year, though, thanks to a budget line item whose fate will be closely tracked by an international audience.

The line item of interest is President Barack Obama's expected request for money for the Green Climate Fund, which is a key component in the push for a global agreement this year to limit global warming. The fund is meant to collect and distribute money from developed nations to help poorer and developing countries lower future carbon emissions and prevent further damage from the effects of climate change.

In Keystone Fight and Beyond, Infrastructure Is Energy Policy

New pipelines, power plants and export facilities would lock in carbon emissions for another generation and continue the dominance of fossil fuels.

Jan 8, 2015

As almost 200 countries try to work out an agreement in 2015 to slash carbon emissions, the U.S. and others are about to make the climate task tougher by adding new fossil fuel pipelines, power plants and other infrastructure that could increase pollution for decades.

The installations threaten to deepen the planet's dependence on fossil fuels and lock in new carbon emissions over the long term, jeopardizing the world's ability to slow global warming and prevent catastrophic droughts, flooding and sea-level rise. The investments also soak up funds that should be poured into nonpolluting, renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power, environmental advocates say.

"Projects that are approved today, they are not projects meant to last for two or three years. They have an operational and economic life span in excess of 30 years," said Anthony Swift, an attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, a leading environmental group that opposes new projects involving coal, crude oil and natural gas. "In many real respects, infrastructure is destiny."

In the U.S., infrastructure has become the nation's de facto energy policy. With no comprehensive federal energy plan, and existing climate policies under attack from Congress, the U.S. fight over climate and energy is playing out over infrastructure projects. Because new energy facilities last for decades, are fiercely protected once built, and add carbon emissions for the duration, the battle lines now form around every new fossil fuel plant and pipeline proposal, from the Keystone XL oil pipeline to West Coast coal export terminals.

2014: Riding a Rocket, Divestment Movement Gains Momentum

The notion that most of the fossil fuel reserves on company balance sheets must stay in the ground—stranded—is no longer unthinkable.

Dec 22, 2014

This was the year Big Oil and its fossil-fuel brethren began to look a lot less invincible.

An unexpected crash in crude prices forced industry leaders to cut spending, mothball expensive projects and put the brakes on new drilling. Local officials, residents and environmentalists blocked new pipelines and rebelled against the surge in shipping oil by railcar. And new limits on power plant pollution, methane releases and oilfield gas burn-off are still looming over coal, natural gas and oil operations across the country.

More threatening than all of those things, however, is something the industry has never faced before: The growing belief among global leaders, investors, scientists, and large corporations that the use of fossil fuels must be sharply curtailed—if not phased out—for the sake of future generations.

A Guide to the Lima Climate Change Talks

The most crucial battles in the fight against climate change are unfolding now in Lima, Peru.

Dec 6, 2014

The most crucial battles in the fight against climate change are unfolding now in Lima, Peru. That's where negotiators from around the world are hashing out issues of fairness and finance to sketch out an effective climate treaty that would push greenhouse gas emissions to zero this century.

Note: InsideClimate News reporter John H. Cushman Jr. will be filing posts from Lima this week. Read his stories at the Carbon Copy blog and follow him on twitter @jackcushmanjr.

What's Happening

Representatives from more than 190 nations are meeting for talks in Lima, Peru (Dec. 1 – Dec. 14) to hammer out the draft of the first truly global pact to avoid the worst effects of climate change. The ultimate goal: signing a treaty a year from now in Paris. If successful, it would be the world's most complex and encompassing treaty ever devised. The last attempt was in 2009 at the Copenhagen climate talks.

Why It Matters

The Climate-Change Finance Gap at a Glance

Graphic shows how current climate fund pledges for poor nations stack up to what's needed.

Nov 28, 2014

Depending on who you ask, the $9.7 billion in pledges for the Green Climate Fund is either a woeful start or an encouraging sign that wealthy nations are serious about helping poorer ones deal with climate change.

As climate treaty talks begin next month in Peru, it's the opinions of those within developing nations that matter most. Negotiators for those countries have said they cannot commit to emissions reductions or sign a climate treaty without adequate financial support.

The pledge total is just shy of the $10 billion goal for the initial phase of the Green Climate Fund, and well short of the $15 billion that developing nations wanted.

Situation 'Grave' for Global Climate Financing, Report Warns

Current spending remains 'far below even the most conservative estimates' of what's needed to curb and adapt to climate change, study finds.

Nov 25, 2014

It took more than a decade of worsening climate change projections to get global leaders to promise steeper carbon cuts. Amassing enough money to deal with the problem, it seems, might be even harder.

Developing nations last week fell short of the $10 billion minimum goal for the critically important Green Climate Fund. To make matters worse, a new report shows that overall climate-related investment is lagging, too.

The latest tally of global climate finance found that public and private investment totaled $331 billion in 2013, down nearly 8 percent from 2012. That spending is "far below even the most conservative estimates of investment needs" to reduce the threat of climate change, according to the 2014 Global Landscape of Climate Finance report, released Thursday by the independent Climate Policy Initiative (CPI), a San Francisco-based group funded by grants from government and charitable foundations.

Pipeline Alert From Federal Regulator Is First of Its Kind

Reversing oil and gas pipelines or changing the product they're carrying can have a 'significant impact' on the line's safety and integrity.

Nov 17, 2014

Reversing oil and natural gas pipelines or switching the product they're carrying can have a "significant impact" on the line's safety and integrity—and "may not be advisable" in some cases, federal regulators told pipeline companies in a recent advisory.

The alert is the first time the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has officially cautioned the industry about potential safety threats from restarting, reversing or reworking pipelines to handle Canadian tar sands oil and the surge in U.S. oil and natural gas supplies. If not handled properly, those changes can increase the risk of pipeline leaks and ruptures, the Sept. 12 notice said.

The PHMSA bulletin validates the concerns of communities and pipeline safety experts who have pressed for more details and assurances about pipeline reversals and other changes. The proliferation of those changes has also frustrated environmentalists because they have provided routes for tar sands headed to the Gulf Coast in the absence of the Keystone XL pipeline.  

PHMSA said the advisory was triggered in part by last year's oil spills involving two reversed pipelines, ExxonMobil's Pegasus tar sands line in Arkansas and the Tesoro Logistics line in North Dakota. Those accidents, as well as "other information PHMSA has become aware of" led the agency to issue the alert, the bulletin said. 

Ahead of Global Talks, All Eyes on U.S. Contribution to Climate Fund

'It's like dominos. This is the first domino, and in order to get everything to fall in the right place, you have to start here.'

Nov 10, 2014

Next month's climate talks in Peru are a pivotal point in the push for global action on climate change. But it's a far less publicized gathering in Berlin that holds the key to whether the Lima negotiations succeed—and whether a useful climate treaty might be possible in the end. 

That's because the Berlin meeting, set for Nov. 20, is the first formal pledging conference for the Green Climate Fund. The fund's job is to collect hundreds of billions of dollars promised to developing countries to help them limit or cut emissions and withstand the effects of global warming.  

At the meeting, the United States and other wealthy nations will announce multiyear contributions to the fund, and the size of those pledges is crucial. Many less-developed countries have warned that they cannot—and will not—offer meaningful emissions reductions without substantial funding from developed countries. The Lima meeting is to lay the groundwork for a climate treaty to be signed in Paris in late 2015.

Berlin "is a good litmus test for Lima, because finance is really half of the equation to getting a climate deal," said Karen Orenstein, a senior analyst at Friends of the Earth. "It's like dominos. This is the first domino, and in order to get everything to fall in the right place, you have to start here."

Exxon Fighting to Keep Public From Seeing 900,000 Pages of Documents in Oil Spill Lawsuit

Unprecedented secrecy in a class action suit that is seeking to determine if oil giant was negligent in upkeep of burst pipeline.

Oct 31, 2014

Oil giant ExxonMobil is seeking "unprecedented secrecy" by labeling nearly 900,000 pages of documents as confidential in a class action lawsuit over an oil pipeline rupture in Arkansas, an attorney said in a new court filing.

The attorney, Tom Thrash, said Exxon's blanket assertion of confidentiality prevents affected property owners and the public from learning whether Exxon had properly maintained and repaired the 1940s-era Pegasus oil pipeline at the heart of the case, and it has forced him to file his arguments under seal.

The 858-mile Pegasus, which stretches from Patoka, Ill. to Nederland, Texas, was carrying Canadian diluted bitumen (dilbit) when it burst open in Mayflower, Ark. on March 29, 2013. An estimated 210,000 gallons of thick oil oozed into a neighborhood and waterway, sickening residents and forcing the evacuation of 22 homes. Exxon later bought most of the houses because the owners didn't want to return.