Investigation Shows Damning Picture of Enbridge in Kalamazoo Tar Sands Spill
Used with permission of NRDC—Switchboard
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) heard the major findings of its two year investigation of the Enbridge tar sands pipeline spill, which released more than a million gallons of corrosive tar sands into the Kalamazoo River watershed in July 2010.
The Kalamazoo spill has clearly demonstrated how dirty and dangerous tar sands pipelines are even more dangerous than conventional oil pipelines. Nearly two years after what has become the most expensive pipeline disaster in U.S. history, emergency responders are still struggling to clean up the Kalamazoo River.
The government's investigation raises serious questions about whether corrosive tar sands can be safely moved on the U.S. pipeline system, especially when pipelines cross farms and waters in the U.S. heartland as the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would. In particular, the NTSB provides a damning picture of Enbridge’s pipeline safety measures. As one NTSB board member put it, this investigation did not only show corrosion of Enbridge’s tar sands pipeline, but also demonstrates systemic corrosion of Enbridge’s pipeline safety program.
"Delegating too much authority to the regulated is tantamount to letting the fox guard the hen house," said Deborah Hersman, chair of NTSB.
NTSB’s report shows in glaring detail that the $807 million tar sands spill was the result of Enbridge taking advantage of weak pipeline safety regulations and poor oversight by federal pipeline safety regulators at the Pipeline and Hazardous Safety Materials Administration (PHMSA). Enbridge failed to identify multiple risks to pipeline safety, failed to properly identify the spill and lacked the resources or planning to mitigate the spill. NTSB staff found that the Kalamazoo spill could and should have addressed the causes of the Kalamazoo spill proactively.
NTSB made several major findings:
- The cause of the rupture of Enbridge’s Line 6B pipeline was caused by the interaction of stress cracking and corrosion.
- Enbridge had been aware of both the corrosion and cracking on line 6B for five years, but the Canadian tar sands company failed to consider how the combination of corrosion and cracking would interact to lead to a pipeline rupture.
- Enbridge continued to operate the pipeline for 17 hours after the spill despite warnings from the leak detection system. The operator took no steps to investigate the potential leak, did not respond to 911 calls reporting the smell of oil and only shut down the pipeline after third-parties located the spill.
- Enbridge’s spill response plan was grossly inadequate for addressing a spill of this magnitude. The company’s closest responder was 10 hours away. Only a small trailer of equipment had been prepositioned to respond to a spill.
- Federal pipeline regulators at PHMSA permitted the series of mistakes by a combination of ambiguous regulations and poor pipeline safety oversight.
Perhaps of greatest concern are the causes of the Kalamazoo tar sands spill point to a systemic lack of a culture of safety in the pipeline industry and a failure of safety oversight by regulators at PHMSA. NTSB’s findings highlight the urgency to address the general failures in the nation’s pipeline safety system and to proactively address the risks of tar sands pipelines.
While NTSB did not specifically address ways in which the unique risks of tar sands contributed to the spill and the severity of its impact, the panel presented several conclusions which implicated tar sands:
- The pipeline’s failure was in part due external corrosion which combined with stress corrosion cracking, led to a pipeline failure. We’ve discussed for some time how the higher temperatures of tar sands can speed corrosion while pressure variations that can occur in viscous or thick tar sands can contribute to cyclic pipeline stress.
- Enbridge’s failure to identify the spill was in a large part due to a leak detection system prone to false alarms. We have discussed in some detail that more viscous, thicker tar sands leads to far more “noise” for pipeline leak detection systems which may trigger false alarms—meaning that a real spill is not identified.
- Enbridge was not prepared for a spill involving oil which did not float on the top of a river body. As we've seen, a large percentage of tar sands diluted bitumen sinks in water bodies soon after a spill. The company not only lacked sufficient quantities of spill response equipment, but they had the wrong type of spill response equipment, which only contained oil floating on the water's surface. PHMSA’s oversight in this area was found to be extremely lacking. The NTSB found that federal regulators are not taking their obligation to approve spill response plans seriously. This may explain why PHMSA has excluded the question of how to respond to tar sands spills from the scope of their study on the safety of tar sands pipelines. Without specific knowledge of how tar sands behaves when spilled, it will be impossible to correct the deficiencies in spill response planning which increased the cost and damage of the Kalamazoo tar sands spill.
NTSB made 19 recommendations for DOT, PHMSA, Enrbidge and spill responders. As the agency concluded, pipeline safety should be more than a slogan. The Kalamazoo tar sands spill was the result of multiple mistakes made by Enbridge, but federal regulators are also culpable. Both federal regulators and the pipeline industry have too often treated this issue as a public relations issue prior to spills and disaster management afterward.
There is a better way—one that requires strong, clearly outlined regulations and a pipeline safety agency focused on preventing spills rather than responding to them.
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If weather is your mood, climate is your personality. That's an analogy some scientists use to help explain the difference between two words people often get mixed up.
Size Matters<p>Climates are a bit like woven tapestries. The big picture is important, no question. But so are all the seemingly minor details found inside the larger whole.</p><p><a href="https://research-information.bris.ac.uk/en/persons/tommaso-jucker" target="_blank">Tommaso Jucker</a> is an environmental scientist at the University of Bristol. In an email, Jucker says he'd define the term microclimate as "the suite of climatic conditions (temperature, rainfall, humidity, solar radiation) measured in localized areas, typically near the ground and at spatial scales that are directly relevant to ecological processes."</p><p>We'll talk about that last bit in a minute. But first, there's another criteria to discuss. According to some researchers, a microclimate — by definition — must differ from the larger area that surrounds it.</p><p><a href="https://www.cfc.umt.edu/research/paleoecologylab/publications/Davis_et_al_2019_Ecography.pdf" target="_blank">Forests</a> provide us with some great examples. "The climate near the ground in a tropical rainforest is dramatically different from the climate in the canopy 50 meters [164 feet] above," says University of Montana ecologist <a href="https://www.cfc.umt.edu/personnel/details.php?ID=1110" target="_blank">Solomon Dobrowski</a> in an email. "This vertical gradient among other factors allows for the staggering biodiversity we see in the tropics."</p><p>Likewise, scientists observed that a 2015 partial <a href="https://animals.howstuffworks.com/insects/bees-stopped-buzzing-during-2017-solar-eclipse.htm" target="_blank">solar eclipse</a> caused the air temperature of an Eastern European meadow to <a href="https://rmets.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/wea.2802" target="_blank">change more dramatically</a> than it did in a nearby forest. That's because trees provide not only shade, but their leaves also reflect solar radiation. At the same time, forests tend to reduce wind speeds.</p><p>All those factors add up. A 2019 review of 98 wooded places — spread out across five continents — found that forests are 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) <a href="https://natureecoevocommunity.nature.com/posts/47363-forests-protect-animals-and-plants-against-warming" target="_blank">cooler on average</a> than the areas outside them.</p><p>Now if you hate the cold, don't worry; there's a cozy exception to the rule. According to that same study, forests are usually 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) warmer than the external environment during the wintertime. Pretty cool.</p>
A Bug's Life<p>When does a microclimate stop being, well, micro? In other words, is there a maximum size we should be aware of when discussing them?</p><p>Depends on who you ask. "In terms of horizontal scale, some have defined 'microclimate' as anything that is less than 100 meters [328 feet] in range," Jucker says. "I'm personally less prescriptive about this."</p><p>Instead, he says the "scale at which we want to measure [a particular] microclimate" ought to be "dictated" by the questions we're trying to answer.</p><p>"If I want to know how temperature affects the photosynthesis of a leaf, I should be measuring temperature at centimeter scale," Jucker explains. "If I want to know if and how temperature affects the habitat preference of a large, mobile mammal, it's probably more relevant to capture temperature variation across [tens to hundreds] of meters."</p><p>For instance, solitary plants have the power to generate itty-bitty microclimates. Just ask <a href="https://www.colorado.edu/geography/peter-blanken-0" target="_blank">Peter Blanken</a>, a geography professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder and the co-author of the 2016 book, "<a href="https://amzn.to/2XN6FT8" target="_blank">Microclimate and Local Climate</a>."</p>
The urban heat island effect is a good example of how microclimates work. NOAA
Microclimates on a Grand Scale<p>It's no secret that our planet is going through some rough times at the macro level. The global temperature is <a href="https://climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/global-temperature/" target="_blank">climbing</a>; nine out of the <a href="https://www.noaa.gov/news/2019-was-2nd-hottest-year-on-record-for-earth-say-noaa-nasa" target="_blank">10 hottest years on record</a> have occurred since 2005. And by one recent estimate, roughly 1 million species around the world are <a href="https://ipbes.net/sites/default/files/2020-02/ipbes_global_assessment_report_summary_for_policymakers_en.pdf" target="_blank">facing extinction</a> due to human activities.</p><p>"One of the big questions that ecologists and environmental scientists are trying to answer right now is how will individual species and whole ecosystems respond to rapid climate change and habitat loss," says Jucker. "...To me, [microclimates are] a key component of this research — if we don't measure and understand climate at the appropriate scale, then predicting how things will change in the future becomes a lot harder."</p><p>Developers have long understood the impact small-scale climates have on our daily lives. <a href="https://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/urban-heat-island.htm#pt0" target="_blank">Urban heat islands</a> are cities that have higher temperatures than neighboring rural areas.</p><p>Plants release vapors that can moderate local climates. But in cities, natural greenery is often scarce. To make matters worse, plenty of our roads and buildings have a bad habit of absorbing or re-emitting heat from the sun. <a href="https://www.google.com/books/edition/Microclimate_and_Local_Climate/LHUZDAAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&bsq=urban%20heat%20island" target="_blank">Vehicle emissions</a> don't exactly help the situation.</p><p>Still, it's not like Boston or Beijing are thermal monoliths. Sometimes, the documented temperatures <a href="https://e360.yale.edu/features/can-we-turn-down-the-temperature-on-urban-heat-islands" target="_blank">within a single city</a> vary by 15 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit (8.3 to 11.1 degrees Celsius).</p><p>That's where metro parks and city trees come in. They have nice cooling effects on nearby neighborhoods. "Several cities around the world have developed programs to increase urban green spaces," says Blanken. "Tree planting programs and green roof programs, have been shown to lower surface temperatures, decrease air pollution and decrease surface water runoff (urban flash-flooding) in urban areas."</p>
An "explosive" wildfire ignited in Los Angeles county Wednesday, growing to 10,000 acres in a little less than three hours.
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Note: This story was originally published on August 6, 2020
If asked to recall a hurricane, odds are you'd immediately invoke memorable names like Sandy, Katrina or Harvey. You'd probably even remember something specific about the impact of the storm. But if asked to recall a heat wave, a vague recollection that it was hot during your last summer vacation may be about as specific as you can get.
<div id="ecf36" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c2dcc9d48a6cd61f247df1544539a783"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1290959314132361216" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Naming heatwaves is a good idea—making the abstract concrete, the invisible visible. Why should hurricanes and wild… https://t.co/hDWgYb79Ob</div> — Ed Maibach (@Ed Maibach)<a href="https://twitter.com/MaibachEd/statuses/1290959314132361216">1596623660.0</a></blockquote></div>
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One of the challenges of renewable power is how to store clean energy from the sun, wind and geothermal sources. Now, a new study and advances in nanotechnology have found a method that may relieve the burden on supercapacitor storage. This method turns bricks into batteries, meaning that buildings themselves may one day be used to store and generate power, Science Times reported.
Bricks are a preferred building tool for their durability and resilience against heat and frost since they do not shrink, expand or warp in a way that compromises infrastructure. They are also reusable. What was unknown, until now, is that they can be altered to store electrical energy, according to a new study published in Nature Communications.
The scientists behind the study figured out a way to modify bricks in order to use their iconic red hue, which comes from hematite, an iron oxide, to store enough electricity to power devices, Gizmodo reported. To do that, the researchers filled bricks' pores with a nanofiber made from a conducting plastic that can store an electrical charge.
The first bricks they modified stored enough of a charge to power a small light. They can be charged in just 13 minutes and hold 10,000 charges, but the challenge is getting them to hold a much larger charge, making the technology a distant proposition.
If the capacity can be increased, researchers believe bricks can be used as a cheap alternative to lithium ion batteries — the same batteries used in laptops, phones and tablets.
The first power bricks are only one percent of a lithium-ion battery, but storage capacity can be increased tenfold by adding materials like metal oxides, Julio D'Arcy, a researcher at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, who contributed to the paper and was part of the research team, told The Guardian. But only when the storage capacity is scaled up would bricks become commercially viable.
"A solar cell on the roof of your house has to store electricity somewhere and typically we use batteries," D'Arcy told The Guardian. "What we have done is provide a new 'food-for-thought' option, but we're not there yet.
"If [that can happen], this technology is way cheaper than lithium ion batteries," D'Arcy added. "It would be a different world and you would not hear the words 'lithium ion battery' again."
One of the concerns about a warming planet is the feedback loop that will emerge. That is, as the planet warms, it will melt permafrost, which will release trapped carbon and lead to more warming and more melting. Now, a new study has shown that the feedback loop won't only happen in the nether regions of the north and south, but in the tropics as well, according to a new paper in Nature.
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By Jessica Corbett
A sheriff in Florida is under fire for deciding Tuesday to ban his deputies from wearing face masks while on the job—ignoring the advice of public health experts about the safety measures that everyone should take during the coronavirus pandemic as well as the rising Covid-19 death toll in his county and state.
<div id="7a571" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="aad9dcf60e7385e6553ff23ffc1ae75d"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1293527664389693447" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Deaths hit a record in Florida yesterday. This guy's jail system is rife with COVID. And he's banned masks in his s… https://t.co/Cbp2wR32o1</div> — Michael McAuliff (@Michael McAuliff)<a href="https://twitter.com/mmcauliff/statuses/1293527664389693447">1597236002.0</a></blockquote></div>
<div id="79024" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4ac086eab58b9713f2ad777c40938252"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1293578984148606977" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">This actively puts peoples' lives at risk. https://t.co/GKF0Xgjyex</div> — CAP Action (@CAP Action)<a href="https://twitter.com/CAPAction/statuses/1293578984148606977">1597248238.0</a></blockquote></div>
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