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Exxon Overlooked, Masked Safety Threats in Years Before Pegasus Pipeline Burst

Selective risk reporting caused Exxon to underestimate the vulnerability of the pipe that passed through Mayflower, Ark., federal regulators said.

Nov 14, 2013

In the years leading up to ExxonMobil's Pegasus pipeline rupture in Arkansas, the company delayed a crucial inspection, put off urgent repairs, masked pipeline threats with skewed risk data and overlooked its own evidence that the oil pipeline was prone to seam failures, according to federal pipeline regulators.

The assertions are laid out in a bluntly worded notice sent to Exxon and released last week by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA, pronounced fimm-sa). The preliminary citations, which came with a proposed $2.66 million fine for Exxon, grew out of the agency's investigation into the March 29 Pegasus seam failure that sent an estimated 210,000 gallons of crude into a Mayflower, Ark. neighborhood.

"From my perspective, this is a pretty important notice," said Richard Kuprewicz, a pipeline safety consultant who serves on the PHMSA safety standards advisory committee for oil pipelines. "They've used some fairly strong words ... and they don't choose their words casually."

IEA: Tar Sands Export Pipelines Needed for Canada's Oil to Boom

Report thrusts the prominent energy institute into a critical part of the debate over the Keystone XL—whether the pipeline would worsen global warming.

Nov 14, 2013
Syncrude Aurora Oil Sands Mine/Credit: Elias Schewel. T

Growth in the Canadian oil sands industry will depend on the construction of major new pipelines, including the disputed Keystone XL across the United States, according to a report by a prominent energy institute.

The faster new pipelines are approved, the more rapid the increase in tar sands production over the next two decades, the International Energy Agency said in its annual World Energy Outlook, released on Nov. 12. Accelerated growth would mean a surge in global greenhouse gas emissions, which the IEA has said are already on a "dangerous" course.

The finding thrusts the IEA into a critical part of the debate over the proposed Keystone XL—whether the project would worsen global warming. The IEA's conclusion contrasts with what the U.S. State Department said in its high-profile draft environmental impact study.

According to the State Department, tar sands production would increase with or without the Keystone XL, and therefore the pipeline wouldn't exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution. The question is important because Obama has said his decision will hinge on the "net effects of the pipeline's impact on our climate."

Keystone XL Study Warns of Defective Segments on Pipeline's Southern Leg

Report by advocates says at least 125 sections on the southern portion of the Keystone have had to be repaired. Expert says concerns exaggerated.

Nov 12, 2013
Replacement work on the southern leg of the Keystone XL

Story updated on Nov. 13 at 2:30 a.m. EDT to include content of warning letters obtained by CBS from federal regulators to TransCanada.

Story updated on Nov. 12 at 3:20 p.m. EDT to include comments from TransCanada.

A group of environmental advocates and Texas landowners is urging federal regulators to block TransCanada from starting the southern leg of its Keystone XL pipeline, while new inspections are conducted and the company's construction and safety practices are investigated. The Oklahoma-to-Texas oil pipeline is nearly completed.

The activists, led by the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, allege in a report released Tuesday that shoddy construction on the new line has caused more than a hundred defects that TransCanada has had to fix. They believe the "anomalies," even after repairs, could leave the pipeline vulnerable to breaks and spills.

They called on the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, or PHMSA, to require comprehensive retesting and reinspection of the line before its scheduled startup around the end of this year.

The critics also want regulators to investigate TransCanada's construction and quality assurance records to see why so many repairs were needed and whether the company's practices, which have been criticized by Canadian regulators in the past, met safety standards. They are urging Congressional committees to hold oversight hearings into the matter.

Tiny Minnesota City Draws a Line in the Frac Sand Boom

Winona will be the first U.S. city to monitor pollution from trucks hauling frac sand en route to fracking operations.

Nov 11, 2013
Demonstrators protest against the frac sand industry in Winona on April 29, 2013

A college town in southern Minnesota is taking action against the frac sand industry that's booming amid America's drilling revolution.

Winona, Minn. will become the first local government in the nation to monitor air pollution that may be escaping from mounds of sand being trucked through town for delivery to fracking fields in North Dakota and elsewhere.

The move puts the city of 28,000 people at the forefront of initial efforts to address the health effects of silica sand, an ingredient used in fracking that has been linked to lung disease. It is part of a larger trend to understand the various impacts of natural gas and oil development on communities.

The data Winona collects will be used to determine if the city is within pollution standards set by the federal and state government, and it could help other towns build a case for monitoring frac sand pollution.

"This is not a specific city's problem—it's a regional problem," said Jim Gurley, co-founder of the Winona-based grassroots group Citizens Against Silica Mining.

Climate Talks in Poland Will Open Amid Flurry of New Scientific Warnings

All the reports sound a common theme: more needs to be done, and faster.

Nov 7, 2013
UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres

As delegates from around the world descend on Warsaw for talks toward a new climate treaty, scientists are issuing more and more dire warnings that time is running out to avoid dangerous global warming.

In the past week, several new reports echoed the common theme that urgent action is required to reverse emission trends. Otherwise, greenhouse gas accumulations will surely break through the threshold that scientists say will lock in unacceptable warming—with the attendant droughts, floods, storms, sea rise and damage to ecosystems.

Concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere continue to set records, a Nov. 6 report by the World Meteorological Organization confirmed. The gap between a safe track for emissions and the business-as-usual track continues to widen, another organization's report said on Nov. 5.

Yet another, by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, foretold consequences including disruption to food supplies and possibly rising violence.

Need for Keystone XL Erodes as U.S. Oil Floods Gulf Coast Refining Hub

Many benefits being touted by Keystone supporters are being delivered by the domestic oil rush. 'It's become a political football more than anything.'

Nov 6, 2013
An oil pump jack operates in Texas.

The ongoing U.S. oil boom has flooded the Gulf Coast with domestic crude to levels not seen in decades, creating a homegrown oil glut in the nation's refining center just as the Obama Administration prepares to rule on a pipeline that would add a torrent of heavy Canadian crude to the same region.

It's just the latest in a string of developments that have surprised and roiled oil markets since 2009, when the combination of falling fuel demand and an unexpected surge in U.S. oil and natural gas production began destroying widely held assumptions about the nation’s need for imports.

"U.S. oil production is at a point that is changing the entire globe, and this is just more evidence that the U.S. producers are far exceeding anybody’s expectations," said Phil Flynn, senior oil analyst at Price Futures Group. "This is part and parcel of the big story—the U.S. energy boom."

Conditions have changed so radically that U.S. refiners are now exporting record amounts of fuel to overseas customers, and there’s a parade of tankers delivering Texas oil to refineries on the east coast of Canada. As these and other surprising trends unfold, it's becoming increasingly clear that the controversial Canadian oil import pipeline, the Keystone XL, is not an urgently needed link. 

'Frac Sand' Mining Boom: Health Hazard Feared, but Lawmakers Aim to Ease Regulation

Number of Wisc. frac sand facilities increased from 7 in 2010 to 145 today, even though the health implications of the boom aren't yet fully understood.

Nov 5, 2013
A sand mining facility in Grantsburg, Wisc.

Republican state legislators in Wisconsin want to make it easier for companies to mine the "frac sand" under the state's farmland and forests and head off more stringent regulation on the booming and controversial industry.

The push sets up a showdown with local communities that are fighting to slow the pace of industrial frac sand mining, at least until its health and environmental effects are studied. And it propels Wisconsin—which has no natural gas or a single drilling rig—into the national fight over how to regulate fracking and related industries.

In three short years, dozens of small towns on Wisconsin's western edge have become an epicenter for mining silica sand, a necessary ingredient in the fracking process that has been implicated in thousands of cases of silicosis, a lung disease. It can take up to 10,000 tons of sand to frack a single well during its lifetime, and there are roughly 50 new wells being drilled in the United States every day.

Canadian Gov't Emissions Report Undermines Keystone Pipeline Pitch

The U.S. and Canada are going in opposite directions on CO2 emissions, data reveal, with possible implications for Obama's Keystone pipeline decision.

Oct 31, 2013
Prime Minister Stephen Harper on a tour of CO2 Solutions Inc., a Quebec company

When Alberta Premier Alison Redford came to Washington this year to urge approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, she argued that producing tar sands oil generates much less global warming pollution today than it did two decades ago.

It would be wrong, Redford reasoned, for the U.S. to block the project on climate change grounds.

But a new Canadian government report on the country's greenhouse gas emissions tells a different story. The federal data reveal that the carbon dioxide emissions associated with a barrel of tar sands bitumen have been rising, not falling, in recent years—a trend that may well continue.

The report got scant attention in the United States, but its findings could spell trouble for Canada as government leaders lobby the Obama administration to approve the Keystone, intended to carry growing supplies of tar sands crude to refineries in Texas.

A Year After Sandy, Climate Change Nearly Absent From NYC Mayoral Race

Neither candidate has said how they plan to rebuild Sandy-stricken communities and make New York more resilient to extreme weather events if elected.

By Katherine Bagley and Maria Gallucci

Oct 29, 2013
Mayoral candidates Joseph Lhota, a Republican, and Democrat Bill de Blasio

The devastation caused by Superstorm Sandy a year ago today thrust the issue of climate change into the center of the presidential campaign and to the top of the national political agenda.

And yet in the mayoral race for New York City, one of the epicenters of the tragedy, talk of climate is practically nowhere to be heard. 

In nearly all of the mayoral debates and forums held this year, the issues of global warming and Superstorm Sandy have not come up. That is despite New York's struggles to recover from the storm, the city's vulnerability to future climate disasters and its reputation as a global warming leader under Michael Bloomberg.

Artist Blacklisted by Canada Over Criticism of Climate Policy Takes Show to U.S.

'American policymakers need to understand just who they will be doing business with if they approve the Keystone,' says environmental artist Franke James.

Oct 28, 2013
Franke James

Three years ago, Franke James was a little-known artist who found herself blacklisted by the Canadian government for making art that lambasted the rapidly expanding tar sands. Infuriated and emboldened by the censure, James churned out a slew of pieces criticizing the government, published a book and in the process became one of Canada's most outspoken environmental activists.

Now, the Toronto resident is embarking on a new mission. She wants to raise awareness in the United States about what she believes are Prime Minister Stephen Harper's continuing undemocratic tactics to squash opposition to his oil agenda.

In doing so, she hopes to help persuade the Obama administration to reject the Keystone XL pipeline. The contentious project would carry 830,000 barrels a day of tar sands crude from Alberta to Texas and open a gateway for the flow of the dirtier grade of oil to export markets abroad. A decision is expected next year.