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|What Happened To The "White Paper" Stenehjem, Goehring and Dalrymple Were Preparing?|
|Written by Chet|
Nothing. They never were preparing one, despite what they told the newspapers. Maybe a "white wash paper" is (or was) being prepared by oil companies; but these guys never lifted a finger to get an objective one done.
First, let's clear something up: Wayne Stenehjem, Doug Goehring and Jack Dalrymple make up the State Industrial Commission. "Oil & Gas" is a division within the State Industrial Commission. The head of the Oil & Gas Division is someone named "Lynn Helms." Lynn Helms is not an elected official; he is an at-will employee whose every action is authorized, controled and monitored by Wayne Stenehjem, Doug Goehring and Jack Dalrymple. When Lynn Helms does or says something, he is doing it or saying it because Wayne Stenehjem, Doug Goehring and Jack Dalrymple told him to. If he didn't have their permission to do so, they would fire him.
Second, there's a bit of recent history that's part of this, so I'm going to try to do my best to walk you through it as part of the story. This is long-ish, but it's probably just "part one." You'll have to come back for the rest. Here's what you should know:
On July 6, 2013, a runaway train carrying millions of litres of crude oil derailed in the heart of Lac-Mégantic. The tangled wreck exploded, transforming the town’s main drag into a river of fire. Many of the 47 people who died in the disaster were inside the Musi-Café, a popular bar packed with friends, lovers, neighbours, husbands and wives.
The oil on the train that killed 47 people in Canada was Bakken oil, onloaded at New Town. But the oil didn't act like normal crude oil.
“The explosions and everything, I didn’t think crude oil did that,” said Ed Pritchard, a former accident investigator with the U.S. Federal Railroad Administration.
Canada’s Transportation Safety Board agreed. During an August briefing on its investigation into the crash, Ed Belkaloul, head of the federal TSB in Quebec, said the oil carried to Lac-Mégantic is undergoing testing because the crude reacted “in a way that was abnormal.”
The potential explosiveness of the crude should not have been such a mystery. An investigation by The Globe into the Lac-Mégantic explosions shows there were warning signs that crude from the Bakken region straddling North Dakota and parts of Manitoba and Saskatchewan was not like other oils.
In New Town, N.D., where the ill-fated train was loaded with Bakken crude, locals like to boast that the honey-coloured oil is so light they can take it right from the well and pour it into truck engines because it requires little refining. Long before the crude exploded at Lac-Mégantic, there were signs that shippers, regulators and rail officials did not appear to consider the variable characteristics of oil loaded onto trains that travel through towns and cities.
The Globe and Mail (emphasis added)
Another train hauling Bakken crude oil derailed and exploded in Alabama in November of 2013, "causing flames to shoot 300 feet into the air" and dumping thousands of gallons of oil into a marshy wetlands.
On December 5, 2013, Justin Kringstad, director of the North Dakota Pipeline Authority, became concerned about Bakken crude. He wasn't so much concerned that 47 people had been killed in Canada, or that a dangerous explosion had happened in Alabama too, polluting sensitive wetlands. He wasn't concerned that trains full of this same explosive oil travels through downtown Bismarck, Jamestown and Fargo every day.
No, Kringstad was concerned about the "almost daily reports" about Bakken oil's "volatiility, corrosiveness, etc." He had read a story at "NewTimes.com" about a lengthy report relating to a proposed California oil refinery, in which it was noted much of their oil would likely be "volatile" Bakken crude oil. The story was about how locals in California were upset about the dangerous Bakken oil coming through their communities. Opposition was mounting.
Kringstad was so concerned that he decided to contact Ron Ness -- President of the North Dakota Petroleum Council -- to suggest that Ness work on getting a white paper put together, promoting the idea that Bakken crude is safe for unicorns and butterflies to drink.
I wonder how helpful it would be for someone like the EERC [the UND Energy & Environmental Research Center] to publish a formal report about exactly what Bakken crude is or isn't (also compare WTI, heavy Canadian, ethanol, gasoline, etc.)? I would suspect that there are many companies with big projects hanging in the balance would benefit from such a report and be willing to support it financially.
Email from Kringstad to Ron Ness dated Thursday, December 5, 2013, 11:43 a.m.
See, because the best people to put behind a study of the explosiveness of Bakken crude are big companies that have "big projects hanging in the balance." Keep in mind, too, that if the results of the study aren't good for the businesses that paid for it, the results of the study/research never ever ever ever sees the light of day.
Kringstad copied the email to Lynn Helms who is, as noted above, Dalrymple, Stenehjem and Goehring's hatchet man. Kringstad apparently didn't think the Sierra Club or the Dakota Resource Council -- or the citizens of North Dakota -- would have an interest in funding such a report. Of course the oil companies "with big projects hanging in the balance" were more likely to want to control the study process.On December 16, the Associated Press released a story about how "North Dakota officials are considering crafting a report that the state's top oil regulator said will disprove that hauling crude by rail from the rich Bakken and Three Forks formations is dangerously explosive." (the Billings Gazette) Helms said the purpose of the study was to "to dispel this myth that it is somehow an explosive, really dangerous thing to have traveling up and down rail lines." (the Billings Gazette). Kringstad seemed to downplay the status of the report, noting "It's just discussion at this point."
On December 30, 2013, a train loaded with Bakken crude oil passed through downtown Bismarck, downtown Jamestown, looped around the north end of Valley City, and crossed the highliner bridge. Just before it pulled through downtown Casselton, it hit a grain car that had derailed. The deadly Bakken oil spilled everywhere. The oil that didn't spill all over the rail-side acreage exploded hundreds of feet into the air in an amazing mushroom cloud.
A few days later, on January 2, 2014, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (a department of the US Department of Transportation) issued a "Safety Alert." The warning included the following:
Based upon preliminary inspections conducted after recent rail derailments in North Dakota,Alabama and Lac-Megantic, Quebec involving Bakken crude oil, PHMSA is reinforcing the requirement to properly test, characterize, classify, and where appropriate sufficiently degasify hazardous materials prior to and during transportation. This advisory is a follow-up to the PHMSA and Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) joint safety advisory published November 20, 2013 [78 FR 69745]. As stated in the November Safety Advisory, it is imperative that offerors properly classify and describe hazardous materials being offered for transportation. 49 CFR 173.22. As part of this process, offerors must ensure that all potential hazards of the materials are properly characterized.
Proper characterization will identify properties that could affect the integrity of the packaging or present additional hazards, such as corrosivity, sulfur content, and dissolved gas content. These characteristics may also affect classification. PHMSA stresses to offerors the importance of appropriate classification and packing group (PG) assignment of crude oil shipments, whether the shipment is in a cargo tank, rail tank car or other mode of transportation. Emergency responders should remember that light sweet crude oil, such as that coming from the Bakken region, is typically assigned a packing group I or II. The PGs mean that the material’s flashpoint is below 73 degrees Fahrenheit and, for packing group I materials, the boiling point is below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. This means the materials pose significant fire risk if released from the package in an accident.
DOT Safety Alert (emphasis added)
The press got hold of this Safety Alert, of course. Rather than contacting Public Citizen or the Dakota Resource Council or non-oil-industry hacks, the media immediately contacted cheerleaders for the oil companies. Because that's what they know how to do. They were apparently asked about the status of the "white paper."
North Dakota regulators had said last month that they were considering crafting a report to disprove that hauling the state's crude by rail is dangerously explosive. On Thursday, a state official said those plans had been dropped in the aftermath of the Casselton derailment.
"We have no plans to go forward with anything," said Justin Kringstad, director of the North Dakota Pipeline Authority.
Construction.com (AP) (emphasis added)
Sidenote: The Bismarck Tribune also carried this exact same AP story. When the published it online, it contained the highlited quotation from Justin Kringstad, above. I know this is true because on January 2nd -- the day the story was published online -- a friend of mine copied and pasted those two paragraphs from the Tribune's website and sent it to another friend. That friend sent it to me. So -- without question -- the Tribune altered its story after it published it, removing Kringstad's quotation. But it gives no explanation as to why it did so. If you go to the Tribune's website today and read this same AP story, you'll see the Tribune's version of the story, which they've altered without explanation.
I don't know why they would do this. If you Google any uncommon phrase from the story, you'll see the same story went out on the AP Wire and appears all over the internet - over twelve hundred times - with Kringstad's quotation in it. I'm not sure why the Tribune felt compelled to delete that quotation from its story.
So last week Friday I asked Lynn Helms to provide copies of all of the public records in his office that relate, in any way, to drafting, researching, preparing, etc., the alleged "white paper" he had mentioned in the December 16th AP story about "dispelling myths."
Tuesday (January 14th), Helms apparently participated in some sort of press event responding, among other things, to questions about the "white paper." During his comments, he claims his earlier statement about "dispelling the myth" of Bakken oil being dangerous was made not because he thinks it's a myth, but because he's such a big fan of the TV show "Myth Busters." (Audio of Press Event at approx. 16:20) (See, also, the Fargo Foolums coverage of the press event.)
. o O (Sometimes I wonder if Lynn Helms realizes how obvious it is to everybody around him when he's lying.)
Yesterday (January 15th), in response to my request for records at the Oil & Gas Division relating to the drafting, etc., of the "white paper," I got a pdf file. It's the email I mentioned above. It's the email from Justin Kringstad to Ron Ness (oil industry advocate), which was copied to Helms. Other than that, the Oil & Gas Division has no records that would show it had any involvement in drafting a "white paper." (Translation: It received an email about a possible white paper. It was not actually working on one.)
Because the Kringstad email more or less suggests the possibility of getting the EERC to prostitute itself out to oil industry financiers, I sent a FOIA request to the EERC, asking for records it may have relating to any possible "white paper" drafting. The response, so far, has been disappointing. I've been using the exact same public records request format for about six years. For the first time, ever, some character at EERC has apparently decided to make things extra special difficult for me. Considering the EERC is supposed to be a government funded non-profit, working towards the public good, it would be an understatement to say I'm disappointed. But I'm going to wait this one out and see how they do. My full expectation is that they are going to tell me it's going to cost a LOT of money to satisfy my request, and they're going to want to bill me for all of that. And then they're going to give me a minimal amount of heavily redacted nonsense.
When they do (or don't), you should expect I'll be writing about this again. In anticipation of the possiblity (probability?) that EERC is going to want a bunch of money from me, I'd ask that you consider making a donation to NorthDecoder.com. You can do that by clicking the orange colored "Donate" button over in the right-hand column, under the words "Support NorthDecoder." Keep in mind they might grab some sense and tell me they're not going to charge me. If they do that, I'll just sock your money away to pay web hosting fees or to buy myself a beer or something.