Tag Archives: train bomb

Weekly News Check-In 11/1/19

WNCI-5

Welcome back.

On the local scene, we’re following the Weymouth compressor station, a proposed pipeline replacement/enlargement in Ashland, and continuing consequences to Columbia Gas for last year’s disaster in the Merrimack Valley.

With the Trump administration attempting to relax safety rules for oil transport by rail, we’re keeping a close eye on virtual pipeline news. Meanwhile, the Massachusetts legislature is considering the 2050 Roadmap Bill (H.3983), to address climate change and pivot away from fossil fuels.

Reporting on climate includes a new study illuminating what types of forests sequester the most carbon. And Canadian youth have now joined others in suing their government for climate inaction that threatens their future. Progress toward that future is highlighted in stories on energy efficiency, clean energy alternatives, clean transportation, and battery storage.

We come into the home stretch with a routine basket of news about fossil fuel bankruptcies, denials, and deceptions, and a warning that the promoters of biomass appear to have a tailwind because of favorable changes to legislation and regulations – in spite of warnings from the science and environmental communities. Heads up, Massachusetts – the Baker administration is trying very hard to classify biomass as clean, renewable, and carbon neutral.

We close this week with a notable advancement in plastics recycling from startup Carbios. They have developed a way to biologically break down many types of plastic and then make new plastic without degradation.

— The NFGiM Team

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

Weymouth compressor protesters
Planning agency seeks review of Weymouth compressor study
By Chris Lisinski, State House News Service, reprinted in The Patriot Ledger
October 28, 2019

BOSTON — Five months after it became clear that a study clearing the way for a proposed natural gas compressor station in Weymouth was based on incomplete data, the regional planning agency that produced it is seeking an outside review to determine if its conclusions were in error.

The Metropolitan Area Planning Council announced last week that it had hired London-based Public Health by Design to re-examine its health impact assessment, which found that there would be “no substantial changes in health” for Weymouth and the surrounding communities as a result of the gas plant’s operations. The assessment’s findings have been cited by the Baker administration in approvals of project permits.

In May, amid a contentious appeal process over an air-quality permit the state issued, the Department of Environmental Protection revealed that the data used in the MAPC’s work was less than two-thirds of what regulators had originally sought. The MAPC soon said that its original conclusions could not be assumed to remain valid.
» Read article     

compressor site WBUR
With Permits Upheld, Weymouth Compressor Opponents Plan Legal Challenge
By Chris Lisinski, State House News Service, on WBUR
October 25, 2019

Massachusetts’ lead environmental regulator upheld wetlands and waterways permits for a natural gas compressor station, drawing renewed promises of a legal challenge from opponents.

Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Martin Suuberg on Thursday announced that the two permits would go forward after facing an appeal from opponents in the community, an expected step after the DEP’s hearing officer earlier this week recommended allowing the approval to stand.

On Friday morning, the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station said it would appeal the decision to Superior Court, arguing the permits in fact violate environmental regulations. The group had said earlier it would challenge Suuberg’s decision.
» Read article     

» More on Weymouth compressor station

ASHLAND PIPELINE

Ashland residents rally against Eversource natural gas pipeline project
By Cesareo Contreras, MetroWest Daily News
October 3, 2019

ASHLAND- Deeply troubled over Eversource’s plan to replace a 3.7-mile natural gas line that runs through town, Joel Arbeitman can’t help but feel that the state’s review system has taken away residents’ power to decide what should happen in their town.

“Right now, we have this case in front of the Energy Facilitates Siting Board. We don’t get to decide what happens in our community. They do. We could go to court. We can fight, but ultimately, they decide and that’s a problem,” Arbeitman said Wednesday in Ashland’s Senior Community Center.

Arbeitman was one of at least 30 people who attended Wednesday’s session during which a student documentary “Under Pressure” about last year’s Merrimack Valley gas explosions was screened. Eversource’s local pipeline project was the central focus during the question-and-answer portion of the night’s discussion.

The company is looking to decommission a six-inch 3.7-mile gas line that runs through Ashland and Hopkinton and place new 12-inch pipes alongside them. The company said the project is needed to improve line pressure and better serve customers in Greater Framingham. The easement intersects through the property of more than 80 Ashland homes, two parcels owned by the town, the Chestnut Street Apartments and a number of environmentally sensitive areas, including portions of the wetlands and the conservation-restricted Great Bend Farm Trust.
» Read article     

FSU professor: Eversource pipe proposal is not necessary
Metro West Daily
April 13, 2019

Lawrence McKenna, an earth and environmental science associate professor at Framingham State University, recently completed a report on the pipeline project. He says he sees some flaws, which he relayed to Ashland selectmen earlier this month.

McKenna’s takeaway: There is no immediate need for pipes to be replaced and doubled in size. In fact, current piping “is reliable at the 99.999% level,” he said.

“Ashland has time, because there is no emergency,” McKenna told the Daily News. “Ashland has time to have a vigorous honest debate about where this pipeline should go and why.”

Eversource officials declined to address the professor’s findings, noting that their proposal is still being reviewed by the state Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB).
» Read article  

» More on Ashland pipeline

COLUMBIA GAS – MERRIMACK VALLEY

North Andover Selectmen Ask For Town Voice In Columbia Gas Audit
By Christopher Huffaker, The Patch
October 29, 2019

North Andover’s selectmen are asking the state to give them more of a role in oversight of the Merrimack Valley gas explosions restoration work. On Oct. 2, the state ordered that Columbia Gas pay for an audit of all gas pipeline work they’ve done since the deadly explosions. North Andover asked in a letter sent that the engineering firm Environmental Partners, which they partnered with alongside Andover and Lawrence following the accident, participate in the audit.

“It is important that the towns have a voice and independent oversight in this process. We hope that this work will begin soon so that we have a final determination on whether the work completed was done correctly,” Town Manager Melissa Rodrigues wrote on behalf of the selectmen.
» Read article  

» More on Columbia Gas / Merrimack Valley 

VIRTUAL PIPELINES

oil train explosion
Four States, Led by New York, Challenge Trump Admin Over Oil Train Safety Rule
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
October 29, 2019

On October 23, New York Attorney General Letitia James, joined by attorneys general from Maryland, New Jersey, and California, sent a letter of support to the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) over a Washington state law that would limit the volatility of oil transported by train through the state.

That oil originates in the Bakken Shale in North Dakota and Montana, where trains help take the place of scarce pipelines in order to move fracked crude oil to Washington’s refineries and ports along the coast. North Dakota and Montana have fought back against Washington’s law, which was passed in May, and filed a petition to PHMSA in protest just two months later.

Spurred by safety concerns about oil trains derailing and exploding, the Washington law would cap the vapor pressure of crude oil moved by rail at 9.0 pounds per square inch (psi) and would be triggered by a rise in oil train traffic in the state.
» Read article     

tanker train
California Attorney General pushes back on regulation of trains carrying flammable oil being retained at the federal level
By David C. Lester, RT&S
October 28, 2019

Several states are pushing back on the notion that regulation of crude oil trains in the United States belongs in the hands of the federal government, as opposed to being regulated by the states.  The Sierra Times reports that California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has contacted the U.S. Department of Transportation, and expressed support of the State of Washington efforts to retain state control with laws that limit the vapor pressure level in cars that are carrying very flammable crude oil by rail.

Interestingly, North Dakota and Montana are opposed to these Washington state laws, and the Attorney General’s letter expressed opposition to the position of these two states.  The transportation of crude oil by rail is relatively safe, but an accident can have disastrous consequences. The railroads have made efforts to minimize the impact of oil train derailments by building stronger tank cars that are better equipped to retain leaks and prevent fires.

However, if things go wrong, as they have in past years before stronger tank cars were in place, all bets are off as to the level of havoc that can be wrought by derailments.  In fact, many refer to these trains as “bomb trains,” as violent explosions and intense heat can result from derailments. Trains moving in California often pass areas that are among California’s very sensitive ecological areas, as well as highly populated communities.  Several states have noted that the Environmental Protection Agency has not been active in keeping communities safe, and have failed to enact more robust standards, putting areas through which the trains pass at risk.
» Read article     

LNG on trains for export
Trump Admin Proposes New Rule to Allow Shipping Flammable LNG by Rail
By Justin Mikulka, DeSmog Blog
October 25, 2019

While the DOT press release announcing the rulemaking emphasizes safety (the word or a variant is repeated no fewer than eight times), the actual document proposing this new rule details a worrisome scenario for what could happen if a train of LNG tank cars derails, breaching and releasing the liquefied fossil fuel — what PHMSA calls “Scenario 3”:

“Although Scenario 3 has a low probability, a breached inner tank during a transportation accident could have a high consequence because of the higher probability of a fire due to the formation of a flammable gas vapor/air mixture in the immediate vicinity of the spilled LNG. This probability is based on the likelihood of ignition sources (sparks, hot surfaces, etc.) being generated by other equipment, rail cars, or vehicles involved in a transportation accident that could ignite a flammable vapor cloud.”

According to PHMSA, the derailment of a train full of LNG could have “high consequences” — as in, a major fire or explosion — but because the agency says there are lower odds that it would happen, the public should feel assured this proposed transportation mode, using DOT-113 rail tank cars, is safe.
» Read article     

» More on virtual pipelines

LEGISLATIVE NEWS

A roadmap for combatting climate change
Let’s build on Global Warming Solutions Act
By Joan Meschino and Alyssa Rayman-Read, CommonWealth Magazine
October 26, 2019

Massachusetts has been a leader in the fight against climate change. Yet, several alarming reports by top climate scientists have made it clear that this fight is just beginning. If we are serious about safeguarding the character and nature of our communities, we must take action now. We need a bold commitment to addressing the climate crisis that includes concrete steps for reaching net-zero carbon emissions while promoting a just transition to a clean energy economy.

That is why 59 legislators in the Massachusetts House and Senate, on both sides of the aisle, have signed onto the 2050 Roadmap Bill (H.3983). Developed with input from a diverse group of stakeholders, including labor and business leaders, local officials, environmentalists, and our utilities, the 2050 Roadmap Bill is a bold response to the crisis currently at our doorstep. The bill gives us a plan for steadily reducing our carbon pollution, while ensuring that the opportunities and benefits of a cleaner, healthier, more just economy are enjoyed by everyone in Massachusetts.
» Read article    
» Read 2050 Roadmap Bill (H.3983)

» More legislative news

CLIMATE

forest damage - Peru
In the Fight Against Climate Change, Not All Forests Are Equal
By Henry Fountain, New York Times
October 30, 2019

Forests are a great bulwark against climate change, so programs to reduce deforestation are important. Those efforts usually focus on stopping the destruction in areas where it is already occurring.

But a new study suggests these programs would do well to also preserve forests where deforestation and degradation haven’t begun. Gradual loss of these largely pristine, intact forests has a much greater climate impact than previously accounted for, the researchers said.

Immediate clearing of intact forests, what might be considered “classic” deforestation, over that period accounted for about 3 percent of global emissions from deforestation in all tropical forests, the researchers said. But when they looked at other, more gradual types of loss and disturbance — forests that had been opened to selective logging for firewood, for example, or road-building that exposed more trees to drying or windy conditions — they found that the carbon impact increased sixfold over the period.
» Read article    
» Read study

A Couple A’s, One F: Again, A Mixed Environmental Report Card For Baker
By Bruce Gellerman, WBUR
October 29, 2019

Six of the state’s leading environmental organizations gave Gov. Charlie Baker mixed grades on environmental issues.

Each year, the groups release a report card assessing the administration’s performance in nine categories. While Baker enjoyed two A’s and two B’s in this year’s report, he also earned two C’s, two D’s and an F.

“The takeaway is a mixed record on environmental issues,” said Nancy Goodman, vice president for policy at the Environmental League of Massachusetts.
» Read article    
» Read report

Rising Seas Will Erase More Cities by 2050, New Research Shows
By Denise Lu and Christopher Flavelle, New York Times
October 29, 2019

Rising seas could affect three times more people by 2050 than previously thought, according to new research, threatening to all but erase some of the world’s great coastal cities.

The authors of a paper published Tuesday developed a more accurate way of calculating land elevation based on satellite readings, a standard way of estimating the effects of sea level rise over large areas, and found that the previous numbers were far too optimistic. The new research shows that some 150 million people are now living on land that will be below the high-tide line by midcentury.
» Read article     

Secret Deal Helped Housing Industry Stop Tougher Rules on Climate Change
By Christopher Flavelle, New York Times
October 26, 2019

A secret agreement has allowed the nation’s homebuilders to make it much easier to block changes to building codes that would require new houses to better address climate change, according to documents reviewed by The New York Times.

The agreement shows that homebuilders accrued “excessive power over the development of regulations that governed them,” said Bill Fay, head of the Energy Efficient Codes Coalition, which has pushed for more aggressive standards. Homes accounted for nearly one-fifth of all energy-related carbon dioxide emissions nationwide last year.

The consequences of the [2002] deal between the code council and homebuilders are easiest to measure when it comes to energy efficiency, which came under the influence of the homebuilders’ agreement in 2011.

Until that point, the model building codes had drastically improved the energy efficiency of new homes with each new three-year edition. The 2009 and 2012 development cycles together reduced homeowners’ annual energy costs by 32 percent, according to an analysis by the Department of Energy.

Then, after energy-efficiency codes fell under the agreement between the code council and the homebuilders, that momentum ground to a halt. The 2015 codes, the first to be negotiated after the change, reduced residential energy use and costs by less than 1 percent, the Energy Department found. Savings from the 2018 codes were less than 2 percent.
» Read article     

children's climate lawsuit Canada
15 Canadian Kids Sue Their Government for Failing to Address Climate Change
The young plaintiffs are already dealing with effects of wildfires, flooding and thawing permafrost. They say the government is contributing to the climate crisis.
By Phil McKenna, InsideClimate News
October 25, 2019

Fifteen children and teenagers from across Canada sued their government on Friday for supporting fossil fuels that drive climate change, which they say is jeopardizing their rights as Canadian citizens.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Vancouver, is the latest from young climate advocates around the globe who are increasingly leading public protests and filing legal challenges to make their concerns about their future in a warming world heard.

“The federal government is knowingly contributing to the climate crisis by continuing to support and promote fossil fuels and through that they are violating our charter rights,” said Sierra Robinson, 17, a youth climate activist and plaintiff in the case from Vancouver Island, Canada.
» Read article    
» Read complaint

» More on climate

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

City of Cambridge and Eversource Launch Building Energy Retrofit Program
Eversource News Post
October 28, 2019

The City of Cambridge and Eversource announced a new energy efficiency initiative, called the Cambridge Building Energy Retrofit Program, which targets buildings that are over 25,000 square feet or 50 units for energy-saving improvements. The program, which will proactively connect building owners and facility managers to energy efficiency services, incentives, and technical support, aligns with Cambridge’s Net Zero Action Plan to reduce building greenhouse gas emissions and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

“In Cambridge, buildings account for 80% of the city’s total greenhouse gas emissions. The Cambridge Building Energy Retrofit program helps large buildings access the resources they need to make energy efficiency upgrades that will reduce their energy use and cut their carbon footprint – an important step in furthering our Net Zero Action Plan,” said Iram Farooq, Assistant City Manager for Community Development.
» Read article     

» More on energy efficiency

CLEAN ENERGY ALTERNATIVES

Mayflower Wind location
Mayflower Wind Picked For 800-Megawatt Project Off Of Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard
By Colin A. Young, State House News Service, on WBUR
October 30, 2019

An offshore wind development that boasts it will deliver “the lowest cost offshore wind energy ever in the U.S.” has been selected by state utilities, in coordination with the Baker administration, to deliver about 800 megawatts of clean power to Massachusetts.

Mayflower Wind, a joint venture of Shell and EDPR Offshore North America, was the unanimous choice of the administration and three utilities to build an array of wind turbines approximately 26 nautical miles south of Martha’s Vineyard and 20 nautical miles south of Nantucket, state energy officials announced Wednesday.
» Read article     

» More on clean energy

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

‘General Motors better wake up’ before China takes EV market, former California Gov. Brown tells Congress
By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
October 30, 2019

The Trump administration’s efforts to prevent California from enforcing implementing its own fuel standards is a national threat to the electric vehicle market, say EV advocates. Some 15 states, representing almost 40% of the automobile industry, have adopted California’s standard, which also provides a waiver from the Environmental Protection Agency that states rely on in part to provide zero emissions vehicle rebates.

“The California waiver is important. It means California can set higher standards. It means California can be a laboratory of energy innovation, and that’s exactly what we’ve done,” said Brown.

Ford, Honda, BMW and Volkswagen in July struck a deal with California that loosened the emissions standard for those four companies, while awarding them additional EV credits to meet those standards. As a result, automakers agreed to cooperate with those emissions benchmarks.

But the president, reportedly incensed by that deal, announced in September he would be revoking California’s ability to implement its own standards, and his Department of Transportation shortly after filed a proposal to act on his directive.
» Read article     

General Motors Sides With Trump in Emissions Fight, Splitting the Industry
Along with Toyota and Fiat Chrysler, the auto giant backed the administration in its clash with California over pollution standards.
By Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times
October 28, 2019

Breaking with some of their biggest rivals, General Motors, Fiat Chrysler and Toyota said Monday they were intervening on the side of the Trump administration in an escalating battle with California over fuel economy standards for automobiles.

The Trump administration has proposed a major weakening of federal auto emissions standards set during the Obama administration, prompting California to declare that it will go its own course and keep enforcing the earlier, stricter standards.

In July, Honda, Ford, Volkswagen and BMW sided with California in the battle, striking a deal with the state to follow more stringent standards close to the original Obama-era rules. That surprise agreement would allow those automakers to meet both federal and state requirements with a single national fleet, avoiding a patchwork of regulations.

The pact came as an embarrassment for the Trump administration, which assailed the move as a “P.R. stunt.” In what was widely seen as a retaliatory move, the Justice Department subsequently opened an antitrust inquiry into the four automakers on the grounds that their agreement with California could potentially limit consumer choice, according to people familiar with the matter at the time the inquiry was opened.
» Read article     

» More on clean transportation

BATTERY STORAGE

ESS gets juiced
Iron Flow Battery Startup ESS Raises $30M From SoftBank and Breakthrough
The flow battery survivor marks the latest in a series of recent investments in unconventional long-duration storage technologies.
By Julian Spector, Green Tech Media
October 29, 2019

Iron flow battery startup ESS raised an additional $30 million to take its technology from pilots to commercial scale.

Since 2011, the company has been developing a low-cost, nonflammable long-duration storage technology to compete across domains where the dominant lithium-ion battery chemistries are weaker. Flow batteries have been one of the more prominent lithium-ion alternatives, but companies working in the space have struggled to stay afloat financially and move beyond the pilot stage.

With the new Series C investment, ESS has won a vote of confidence from prestigious and well-heeled backers. SoftBank’s SB Energy and Bill Gates-funded Breakthrough Energy Ventures led the round, which also brought in Evergy Ventures and PTT Global Chemical, in addition to previous investors.
» Read article     

» More on battery storage

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

coal bankruptcies
Murray Energy Is 8th Coal Company in a Year to Seek Bankruptcy
By Clifford Krauss, New York Times
October 29, 2019

Murray Energy, once a symbol of American mining prowess, has become the eighth coal company in a year to file for bankruptcy protection. The move on Tuesday is the latest sign that market forces are throttling the Trump administration’s bid to save the industry.

The collapse of the Ohio-based company had long been expected as coal-fired power plants close across the country.
» Read article     

Exxon Knew
Massachusetts Sues ExxonMobil For Climate Disinformation, Greenwashing
By Brendan DeMelle, DeSmog Blog
October 24, 2019

Massachusetts filed a lawsuit against ExxonMobil today over the company’s misinformation campaign to delay action to address climate change.

Attorney General Maura Healey told reporters in a press conference today that “Exxon has fought us every step of the way,” and was “completely uncooperative,” noting that the company failed to comply with requests for documents and depositions.

“Exxon has yet to produce to our office a single document. They have yet to provide to our office a single witness. So they have been completely uncooperative with our investigation,” Healey told reporters.

ExxonMobil misstated facts and failed to disclose important information to both consumers and investors, according to the complaint, filed today in Suffolk Superior Court by the attorney general’s office.
» Read article   
» Read complaint

» More fossil fuel industry news

BIOMASS

Potential Grows for Biomass Energy
By ERICA GIES, New York Times
October 20, 2009

Woody biomass provides just 0.94 percent of all U.S. energy now, supplying the equivalent of 3.5 million American homes. But Bob Cleaves, president of the Biomass Power Association, a group in Portland, Maine, that represents about 80 plant-burning incinerators in 16 states, says available raw material would allow the industry to double its output. New incinerators are already being planned in many states.

The idea of homegrown, renewable energy, is appealing. It would qualify for tax credits under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and could benefit from support for renewables in the climate bill now going through the Senate.

But many environmentalists are worried. Some, like Chris Matera, founder of Massachusetts Forest Watch, warn that biomass incineration could cause major environmental damage, including the clear cutting of forests and the use of vast quantities of water for cooling. They also say that its combustion emissions are worse than coal’s — a serious charge because in both House and Senate versions of the climate bill, the technology falls into a “biomass loophole.” Categorized as a renewable energy source, biomass would be exonerated from emission caps.
» Read article    

» More on biomass

PLASTICS RECYCLING

Carbios biorecycling
In this “biorecycling” factory, enzymes perfectly break down plastic so it can be used again
The process lets any plastic—say a polyester shirt—be recycled into any other plastic (like a clear water bottle). It could fundamentally change the market for recycling.
By Adele Peters, Fast Company
October 17, 2019

Inside a bioreactor in the laboratory of the France-based startup Carbios, pulverized PET plastic waste—the kind of plastic found in drink bottles and polyester clothing—is mixed with water and enzymes, heated up, and churned. In a matter of hours, the enzymes decompose the plastic into the material’s basic building blocks, called monomers, which can then be separated, purified, and used to make new plastic that’s identical to virgin material. Later this year, the company will begin construction on its first demonstration recycling plant.

“Our process can use any kind of PET waste to manufacture any kind of PET object,” says Martin Stephan, the company’s deputy CEO. It’s a process that could happen in an infinite loop: Unlike traditional recycling, which degrades materials each time you do it, this type of “biorecycling” can happen repeatedly without a loss in quality.
» Read article   

» More on plastics recycling

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