Who Can be Trusted with Infrastructure? Certainly not for-profits …

ap_arkansas_oil_spill_bird_tk_130405_wblogThe one thing that has become apparent to me recently is that privatizing anything related to important infrastructure is a recipe for one disaster after another.  For-profit corporations are into maximizing profits to owners by either slashing costs or hiking prices.  They rarely do anything that actually improves service or delivery quality.  When you experience any kind of disaster that taxes the infrastructure, you learn quickly how negligent for-profits are when it comes to maintaining or fixing infrastructure.  My reality since Hurricane Katrina is living with infrastructure that comes and goes on a windy day, on a drizzly day, on any kind of day that might cause our privately owned electric and natural gas company’s patched together infrastructure to hiccup.  We get power outages at the super bowl, in my home, and in our water treatment plant.  I’ve experienced two boil water orders in the last six months and dozens of electric outages for days on end.  Cox cable’s infrastructure is just about as bad.  They patch things up when they have to do it.  I’ve heard excuses about hungry squirrels, curious racoons, and unusual wind events to the point I could just scream.

Then, there’s these oil pipe disasters.  Why on earth would you trust an oil company with any kind of pipe line given their obvious neglect?  There is a THIRD major oil spill in a week. This time it is in Texas.

Thousands of gallons of oil have spilled from a pipeline in Texas, the third accident of its kind in only a week.

Shell Pipeline, a unit of Royal Dutch Shell Plc, shut down their West Columbia, Texas, pipeline last Friday after electronic calculations conducted by the US National Response Center showed that upwards of 700 barrels had been lost, amounting to almost 30,000 gallons of crude oil.

By Monday, Shell spokespeople said inspectors found “no evidence” of an oil leak, but days later it was revealed that a breach did occur. Representatives with the US Coast Guard confirmed to Dow Jones on Thursday that roughly 50 barrels of oil spilled from a pipe near Houston, Texas and entered a waterway that connects to the Gulf of Mexico.

Coast Guard Petty Officer Steven Lehman said that Shell had dispatched clean-up crews that were working hard to correct any damage to Vince Bayou, a small waterway that runs for less than 20 miles from the Houston area into a shipping channel that opens into the Gulf.

The spill was contained, said Lehman, who was hesitant to offer an official number on how much crude was lost in the accident. According to Shell spokeswoman Kim Windon, though, the damage could have been quite significant. After being presented with the estimate that said as much as 700 barrels were found to have leaked from the pipeline due to an unknown cause, investigators determined that 60 barrels entered the bayou.

“That’s a very early estimate–things can change,” Officer Lehman told Dow Jones.

Meanwhile, though, rescue works in Arkansas have been getting their hands dirty responding to an emergency there. A rupture in ExxonMobil’s Pegasus pipeline late last week send thousands of barrels of oil into the small town of Mayflower, around 25 miles outside of Little Rock. Authorities evacuated more than 20 homes in response, and by this Thursday roughly 19,000 barrels had been recovered.

Mayflower, Ark is still fighting the sludge and will likely be doing so for some time.

We tend to think of oil spills on a massive scale, so large they are hard to imagine. Millions of barrels of crude  pouring into the Bering Sea from the slashed hull of the Exxon Valdez.  Tens of thousands of workers and volunteers combing hundreds of miles of Gulf Coast beaches after the Deep Water Horizon spill. But in Mayflower, Ark., the scale of an oil spill there is disturbing not for its size, but its proximity.   On March 29, a 20-inch buried pipeline burst under the small town, turning backyards into tar pits and suburban streets into oil slicks.

This will probably be yet another part of our new reality given the age of pipelines–around 70 years old–and the continued negligence of oil companies who continue to make record profits and enjoy stupendous tax breaks in this country.

Wanna another weird example of infrastructure failure?

Residents of Washington, DC are used to jokes about metaphorical hot air, humidity, and the swampy history of their city. But there’s something they may not know about the District: it’s overrun with methane, which sometimes makes manhole covers explode.

Natural gas is mostly methane, and it is carried through underground pipes to heat buildings and cook food. Those pipes are often old, and this led ecologist and chemical engineer Robert Jackson of Duke University to drive around DC over a period of two months, regularly measuring the air to take methane levels.

He and his research team found methane leaks everywhere, with thousands of places having significantly higher than normal methane concentrations, and some places reaching 50 times normal urban levels (100 ppm vs 2 ppm). A similar study in Boston last year found essentially the same results. In DC, the source wasn’t the swamp on which the city was built — it was fossil fuel. (The methane they measured had more carbon-13 rather than the normal, modern carbon-12.)

You can laugh about this but I’ve actually seen exploding manhole covers in action.  I was gigging at Balconies restaurant down in the French Quarter.  The piano was700 royal situated under a window and the restaurant–now defunct–was located in a building on the 600 block of Royal.  It’s a really famous intersection and the building is one of those that gets photographed all the time.  The window is basically to the left of the open door where they black car is passing the building.  Mule drawn carriages would stop there frequently to listen to me play and to have a cocktail or cafe au lait brought out for the occupents.  Anyway, one night, after a series of exploding man hole covers had been shutting down the electricity in the Quarter, one of them in the middle of this street took off like a cannon and sliced through the top part of a car right before my eyes.  Of course, the electricity went off in the area and shut down the grocery across the street, the restaurants and everything in that locale. But, I’ll tell you, that manhole cover was an unbelievable projectile.  Oh, it of course, the natural gas in town is Entergy-controlled.  The other thing I recall was the distinct smell of ozone burning up and the wierdish green light show. This was about 15 years ago, but damn, I will never forget watching the roof of a hard top car get sliced off like a piece of salami. It’s been fixed now since the city doesn’t tolerate anything being wrong in the French Quarter, but for about 3 months of the summer 1996, it was a wild trip with a series of exploding manhole covers and black outs.  It was also the same summer I got Karma so, who knows. Maybe it was just one of those summers.

Anyway, after having lived in a city where levees failed us and electricity fails us all the time, I would just like to say that no private corporation should be left on its own with unmonitored vital infrastructure.  All kinds of things are at stake.  Also, you can’t trust any oil company to do right by any one but themselves after a spill.  I have experience in that area too.


Zombies and Vultures and Pipelines, Oh My

The zombies seem to be winning the war against the living.  We have zombie banks, zombie politicians [think Rick Perry], zombie policy—free market fundamentalism preached as an untried economic theory.

And now zombie pipelines.

Just when you thought the Keystone XL controversy had been put to rest [at least temporarily], its zombie presence lunges forward, reanimated for all to see.  Although I suspect supporters of this very bad idea are hoping the American public is not watching or if they are watching they will buy the swill on the non-existent benefits of a 1700-mile tar sands pipeline.

What am I talking about?

I found a disturbing inquiry [hattip to OEN] by Representative Henry Waxman to a Deborah Hohlt, who received $50,500 from the Great State of Indiana [that would be paid in state taxpayer monies] to lobby in DC on behalf of the TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline.  Indiana’s Governor Mitch Daniels provided the rebuttal to the President’s SOTU address, in which he referred to the Administration’s decision to ‘postpone’ the pipeline’s construction as an ‘extremist’ policy.

As you might remember the Republican chorus on this subject has been jobs, jobs, jobs.  House Speaker Boehner has quoted 100,000 jobs at stake.  TransCanada has been all over the map with job estimates, the last, most creative quote coming in at 250,000 jobs.  Unfortunately, the numbers are at odds with the single independent analysis from Cornell Global Labor Institute, estimating the number at between 4000-6000 temporary jobs.  The steel for the pipeline?  Would be coming from India.  The cry that the pipeline would reduce our reliance on foreign oil?  The refined tar sands oil is contracted for export [80%] to South America and Europe.

The upsides are slim to none, considering the toxic, corrosive nature of tar sand oil, the sludge-like quality that requires pressure and heat to make a pipeline flow possible.  That also increases the risk of a leak and an environmental disaster.  Anyone who may question the heightened risk should check out the total mess in Michigan when over 800,000 gallons of tar sand oil spilled and contaminated 40 miles of the Kalamazoo River and surrounding properties.

And the reclamation?  These corporations should hang their heads in utter shame. If you want to be thoroughly disgusted check out the You Tube clip I provided in an earlier post.

But here’s the really curious thing.  The pipeline won’t be running through Indiana.  The pipeline will not be running close to Indiana’s borders. No Indiana facilitities will have access to the pipeline. In fact, it appears that Indiana does not stand to be impacted in anyway by the Keystone pipeline and yet Governor Daniels felt compelled to call President Obama an extremist for postponing the pipeline’s construction.  He was also willing to pay a $50,000+ [in state taxpayer money] to lobby for the Great State of Indiana in defense of the pipeline.

More curious still?  TransCanada has stated that the pipeline will ‘increase’ oil prices for Indiana and other Midwestern residents because the area is ‘oversupplied.’  Keystone’s successful construction [this is stated in TransCanada’s application] will ensure higher prices for Canadian crude.  By independent analysis costs will increase $6.55 per barrel in the Midwest and $3 per barrel everywhere else.   The Indiana Petroleum Council thinks this is a swell idea.

Which begs the question: Who does Governor Daniels work for?  His constituents or the oil companies?

So, it should not be any great surprise that a Senate group–laughably-called bi-partisan because it includes 1 Democrat, Joe Manchin from W. Va.–is reintroducing the Keystone proposal, pushing for immediate construction with or without the Administration’s approval.  The Senate committee is invoking the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, which says Congress should have the power:

To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes.

I love it when the Republicans start waving the Constitution. It’s a clear signal they’re up to no good. Did I mention that Koch Industries stands to make a killing on this project?

While reading Representative Waxman’s letter, I recalled something I’d read in Greg Palast’s book Vultures’ Picnic and found an accompanying and equally disturbing text online here and here.  To quote Palast:

Reserves are the measure of oil recoverable at a certain price. Raise the price, raise the reserve. Cut the price and the amount of oil in the ground drops. In other words, it’s a fool’s errand to measure the “amount of oil we have left.” It depends on the price.

Specifically, oil companies and oil-related financiers are not interested in expanding oil supplies to the world, particularly cheap oil supplies [because the days of cheap oil are over]. They’re interested in feeding the hunger for oil and controlling the price around the world with an iron fist.  The higher, the better.  The environment—air, water, soil–is not the concern.  Our health or that of our children is not the concern.  The bottom line—profit and power—is all that matters.  If nations collapse?  The Vultures are waiting to feast on the bones.

Sound harsh?  It shouldn’t.  Zombies and vultures are kissing cousins.  They’re coming ‘round for a friendly visit.  Again.


Here we go again x3: Oil Spills 3, New Drilling Permits 4

I just got a tweet from the National Wildlife Federation (NWF).  This comes days after complaints that the government isn’t approving Gulf drilling permits quick enough. I should also mention that the Obama Administration has approved the fourth deep-water drilling permit since the BP oil gusher approximately one year ago. So, here’s information from the NWF where they are tracking THREE separate incidents in the Gulf right now.

At this point, we’re following what are likely three different incidents in the Gulf:

  • Oil coming ashore west of the mouth of the Mississippi River near Grand Isle
  • Reports of possible oil east of the mouth of the Mississippi in Chandeleur Sound
  • A large amount of sediment mixed with a small amount of oil at the mouth of the Mississippi

The Times Picayune reports on the first oil occurring near beleaguered Grand Isle, LA and a Houston company has accepted responsibility for that one. TP also reports on the second oil sighting near the Chandeleur islands.  That’s a picture of it at the top of the thread.

Coast Guard Petty Officer Steve Leeman said the Coast Guard had received no reports of oil-like material east of the river, but a group of environmentalists, engineers and scientists flew over Chandeleur Sound on Monday and Tuesday, and shared photographs and detailed descriptions with The Times-Picayune showing black, streaky plumes over a 20-mile stretch from just east of Quarantine Bay to just west of the shoal remains of Curlew Island.

While the oil industry whines it’s not getting to drill quickly enough, it’s becoming evident that their record of maintaining and inspecting existing rigs is pretty pathetic.  Also, we’ve seen no push by the administration or any one in Congress to implement the recommendations of  the National Commission on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. Furthermore, BP is not living up to its obligations to deal with its damage to the wetlands done by the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. Louisiana’s congressional delegation has asked BP for $15 million to restore oyster beds and fisheries.  Louisiana is ponying up $12 million of state funds to begin some kind of effort. BP is still supposedly cleaning up the damage still but has no projects active to restore wetlands.

BP set up the GCRO to deal with the spill. On Tuesday, the GCRO opened up its New Orleans office, in an effort to show they are still working on the oil spill.

“BP’s Gulf Coast Restoration Organization is really centered on four things,” Utsler said. “The first and foremost is continuing the completion of this response.”

Dan Favre is with the environmental advocacy “Gulf Restoration Network.” The group has a similar name to BP’s GCRO, but with a totally different take on the response.

“Unfortunately, the response is clearly lacking,” Favre said. “We’re coming up on the one-year memorial mark of the beginning of BP’s disaster here in the Gulf. And so it’s just crazy that there hasn’t been any action to actually start to repair the damage that’s been done.”

That is true, in part. BP set aside hundreds of millions of dollars for their restoration organization, but a year after the spill, only one of their restoration projects is so far underway.

“One of those is already in progress in Mississippi, in terms of wetland restoration,” Utsler said. “Other projects are in discussion in readiness for being approved and agreed to with NRDA [Natural Resource Damage Assessment] trustees, the states and ourselves to conduct.”

However, none of those projects is currently underway in Louisiana — arguably the state hardest hit by the spill. Utsler said they are working on a list of projects, with pending approval. Yet, some environmental groups believe the federal government needs to step in to move the restoration along.

“I don’t think we can leave it to BP to do it on their own accord,” Favre said. “I want to see Congress and the administration actually make BP pay for Gulf ecosystem restoration, by levying the maximum fines and penalties under the Clean Water Act and then allocating those resources directly to environmental restoration in the Gulf.”

It seems somewhat premature to allow these businesses continued access to drilling in the Gulf when they obviously haven’t maintained the rigs, inspected rigs for problems, and shown signs of good faith following damage to the ecosystem and people living in the Gulf.  I think the administration should ask for implementation of the recommendations before allowing any more new permits.  We also need to look for patterns of abuse so that operators with bad records are not allowed new permits.  That’s just one shrimp lover’s opinion. But then, there’s Michelle Bachmann that wants to do away with the EPA and she’s a congress critter.  Newt Gingrich–oil industry suck-up extraordinaire wants that too. I just want my seafood and vacations in warm Gulf Waters to be safe again.

Oh, and honk if you’ve seen or read any of this on MSM from the village.