Property in Sands Township, Michigan is being considered for a proposed oil refinery. (Image via YouTune / Fox U.P.)
Late last year, developers approached local officials in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula about building a 40,000-barrel-a-day oil refinery and a separate 250 MW power plant about 30 minutes south of Marquette.
Since that time, “not a peep” has been said about the project, according to Marquette County Commissioner Karen Alholm, whose district could hold the development.
“I think it’s a non-issue,” she added.
But while not much has been said about the project — the developers with Bison Oil LLC are in the midst of a months-long due-diligence phase — one expert on the topic suggests that the project could be tied to the larger energy needs of the U.P.’s mining industry. Growth in that sector could indeed make the project an issue.
(Photo by Kari Lydersen)
The towering machinery and fiery flares of the BP oil refinery in Whiting, Indiana were largely obscured by a cold fog Sunday morning, as refinery workers clustered around barrels of burning wood and held picket signs at 10 different spots around the sprawling perimeter.
About 1,100 members of the United Steelworkers (USW) Local 7-1 – more than half the refinery employees – went on strike at 12:01 am Sunday, joining a nationwide strike of USW refinery workers negotiating a national contract with the industry.
USW Local 7-1 president Dave Danko told reporters that contract negotiations broke off Friday, though they still hope to return to the bargaining table next week. He said that wages are not a contested issue, but rather the union is concerned about “understaffing,” excessive amounts of overtime work, and reliance on outside contractors who he said are not as familiar as they should be with the plant.
“Instead of providing jobs in the community they’d rather run short-staffed and have people work onerous amounts of overtime,” said Danko. “For people to work sustained amounts of overtime leads to worker fatigue.”
(Photo by WCN 24/7 via Creative Commons)
A Michigan township took careful steps this month to indirectly regulate oil and gas development within its borders — a legally tricky move amid growing public unrest and uncertainty over hydraulic fracturing here.
Cannon Township, about 20 minutes northwest of Grand Rapids in West Michigan, adopted a series of ordinance changes that regulate new building construction, drilling equipment and “unwholesome substances.”
While townships and counties are preempted by state law on many aspects of oil and gas development, including hydraulic fracturing, they can focus on some ancillary activities of the practice and enforce police powers to give local residents some say.
The frantic pace of drilling, combined with a state government looking the other way, is putting North Dakota oil field workers at considerable risk, according to a documentary that will be aired Monday (January 12) on the Al Jazeera America cable station.
Al Jazeera’s current affairs documentary series, “Fault Lines,” will air “Death on the Bakken Shale,” an in-depth investigation into why the oil boom in North Dakota has brought with it the highest worker fatality rate in the U.S. The program will air at 8 p.m. Central time.
By any measure, 2014 was a significant year in the energy world. the continued rise of fracking, impending EPA carbon regulations, and the ever-glacial pace of global climate negotiations are likely familiar stories to Midwest Energy News readers.
But our focus is more at the state and regional level, and over the past year we’ve helped surface and amplify stories that otherwise might have fallen under the radar.
Here are some of the biggest stories of the past year, based on readership metrics and other factors.
A drilling rig in the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania. (Photo by WCN 24.7 via Creative Commons)
Petroleum backers say a new job survey makes the case for why Illinois should be doing more to expand drilling, particularly fracking, in the state.
The oil and gas industry has created 263,700 jobs in Illinois, according to a study released by the American Petroleum Institute Tuesday that lists direct, indirect and induced jobs created, as well as vendors with contracts with the industry, in each state.
In Illinois, 932 businesses are part of the oil and gas supply chain, the study says, supporting $33.3 billion, or five percent, of the state’s economy.
American Petroleum Institute senior economic adviser Rayola Dougher and Illinois Petroleum Council executive director Jim Watson said the study shows why state regulators should be doing more to facilitate the launch of high volume hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
Construction crews building the Flanagan South pipeline in September, 2013. (Photo by Charles Dunlap, The Concordian. Used with permission)
As recently as two or three years ago, major cross-country pipelines typically did not begin construction until a federal environmental impact statement had been completed and found them acceptable.
But as demonstrated last week, the times have changed.
On Aug. 18, a federal district court judge ruled that the nearly-completed 589-mile Flanagan South pipeline may proceed without undergoing a comprehensive evaluation of its likely environmental impacts.
Later this year, the pipeline, developed by Enbridge Inc., is to start carrying diluted bitumen extracted from tar sands in western Canada. The thick oil typically is combined with condensed natural gas and moved under high pressure and high temperature through pipelines. Dilbit pipeline spills in recent years have caused widespread damage in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and Mayflower, Arkansas.
Major pipeline projects, which in many cases will transport hazardous materials, are developed with a minimum of government scrutiny, according to the two lawyers who filed the case against Flanagan South. Government agencies are giving pipeline companies a lot of freedom to do as they wish, the lawyers contend. And industry is taking full advantage of the opportunities presented to it.
There’s been “a trend in the industry to try to avoid review,” said Jim Murphy, an attorney representing the National Wildlife Federation in the case filed against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and several other federal agencies. Pipeline developers have done so “by avoiding major permits to the extent they can, by avoiding border crossings to the extent they can, and by using existing rights-of-way.”
(Photo by Roy Luck via Creative Commons)
©2014 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission
By Blake Sobczak
U.S. transportation officials don’t review how railroads would handle worst-case oil train disasters like last summer’s derailment in Quebec, which killed 47 people in a fiery explosion.
While railroads must keep “basic” emergency response plans in their own files, the Federal Railroad Administration does not monitor or review those plans.
That’s because railroads are required to provide “comprehensive” oil spill response plans to the FRA only if they use tank cars that hold more than 42,000 gallons of crude. In an April 10 letter responding to a Freedom of Information Act request from EnergyWire, FOIA officer Denise Kollehlon said the FRA’s files “do not contain any records related to the active comprehensive ‘oil spill prevention and response plans’ for oil shipments.”
Map via Enbridge (click for larger version)
©2014 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission
By Jeffrey Tomich
Canadian pipeline company Enbridge Inc. moved a step closer to being able to move ahead with an $800 million oil pipeline in Illinois — a project initially proposed almost eight years ago.
An administrative law judge on Thursday recommended that Enbridge be granted authority to use eminent domain to acquire easements across 127 tracts of land. The final decision will ultimately be made by the Illinois Commerce Commission.
The Southern Access Extension pipeline would cross eight counties and 165 miles directly south from the company’s Flanagan oil terminal at Pontiac, Illinois, to an oil terminal and pipeline hub at Patoka.
The 24-inch-diameter line is just one piece of a much broader strategy by Enbridge to expand its network of North American oil pipelines, and the Southern Access Extension, itself, has evolved since it was proposed.