With 55 days until the election, President Donald Trump signed an order to expand a ban on offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico off of Florida with hopes of winning support for the 2020 election, according to Reuters.
The ban was originally set to expire in 2022 but has now been expanded to 2027 with backing by Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. This ban has heavy support from tourism, real estate, and environmental interests.
Presidential candidate Joe Biden has said in his climate plan, that he will ban oil and gas permitting on public lands and waters, and plans to uphold and create legislation that lowers pollution along with curbing the effects of climate change.
Oil and gas operations, farms, and thousands of similar operations have been granted permission to bypass environmental rules that are intended to protect health and the environment, according to the Associated Press.
On March 26, the Trump administration waived enforcement of EPA regulations, stating that industries would have difficulty complying with them because of COVID-19. This move came after letters were sent to President Donald Trump and later the EPA from The American Petroleum Institute stating that worker shortages and staff issues would make monitoring, reporting, and fixing hazardous air emissions difficult.
The Associated Press found the EPA granted 3,000 waivers with the majority citing the outbreak of COVID-19.
“Oil and gas companies received a green light to skip dozens of scheduled tests and inspections critical for ensuring safe operations, such as temporarily halting or delaying tests for leaks or checking on tank seals, flare stacks, emissions monitoring systems or engine performance, which could raise the risk of explosions,” the Associated Press said.
More states are lining up to be exempt from the Trump administration’s plan to expand offshore oil drilling in the United States.
The administration released a proposal earlier in January to make nearly all U.S. coasts available for drilling over the next five years. Last week, the U.S. Interior Department’s Ryan Zinke granted Florida’s coasts exempt from the deal after a short meeting with Gov. Rick Perry, citing concern for the state’s tourist economy. Shortly after, requests to be excluded from the proposal from other coastal states rolled in. Governors and state officials from Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina and Delaware have asked for meetings with Zinke to discuss the plan’s threat to tourism industries.
Governor John Carney of Delaware posted a Tweet last week, “Tourism and recreation along the Delaware coastline account for billions in economic activity each year, and support tens of thousands of jobs.”
The only states in support of the plan are Alaska and Maine.
Aside from repelling tourists, offshore drilling has serious implications for ocean life and human health. One drilling platform typically releases 90,000 metric tons of drilling fluids and metal cuttings into the sea. Drilling fluids, or drilling muds, which lubricate wells and cool drill pipes, contain toxic chemicals that harm aquatic life. When oil is pumped, water from underground surfaces along with it. Called “produced water,” it contains anywhere from 30 to 40 parts per million of oil. For example, each year in Alaska’ Cook Inlet, 2 billion gallons of produced water contaminates the area with 70,000 gallons of oil.
This new plans marks another rollback of Obama’s environmental legacy, which prohibited offshore drilling in 94 percent of U.S.’s coastal waters.
TransCanada, the company that owns both pipelines, shut down the Keystone Pipeline last Thursday morning at 6 am after detecting a drop in pressure, indicating a leak. About 5,000 barrels of oil spilled onto privately owned land roughly 200 miles north of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The company is still investigating the cause of the pipeline’s rupture.
Just three days after the oil spill, Nebraska’s Public Service Commission decided the fate of the Keystone XL pipeline’s route through Nebraska. Caving to pressure from Nebraska’s conservative legislators as well as industry and labor groups, the five-person commission agreed to allow the pipeline to cross through Nebraska. However, the pipeline must follow an alternative route. While the pipeline will enter and exit the state in the originally proposed locations, the commission will require its route to follow an existing pipeline’s path. This change will make responding to leaks more efficient according to regulators.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that 10-25 million gallons of oil spill each year. Not only do oil spills destroy habitat, kill plants and animals, and compromise agriculture, they also threaten public heath by contaminating drinking water and degrading air quality.
The pipeline, located in north-central Worth County, was first discovered to have ruptured on Wednesday morning. Since then, clean up crews have managed to remove roughly 18 percent of the petroleum product despite high winds and heavy snowfall, according to a Thursday morning interview with Iowa Department of Natural Resources spokesperson Jeff Vansteenburg. Vansteenburg said that the diesel fuel and contaminated snow are being taken to a facility in Minneapolis, Minnesota while the remaining contaminated soil will be moved to a landfill near Clear Lake, Iowa.
Vansteenburg reported that the diesel fuel did not reach the nearby Willow Creek and wildlife reserve. The cause of the leak is still under investigation.
Magellan Midstream Partners, an Oklahoma-based company, owns the pipeline, which stretches through Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin. Last October, another pipeline operated by Magellen Midstream Partners ruptured and released anhydrous ammonia, resulting in the evacuation of 23 homes and the death of one person near Decatur, Nebraska. The company was also fined over $45,000 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2010 after roughly 5,000 gallons of diesel fuel leaked into a Milford, Iowa creek.
The Worth County spill is the largest diesel fuel spill since 2010 according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. Since 2010, 807 spills have been reported to the administration causing an estimated $342 million in property damages and spewing 3 million gallons of refined oil products into the environment.
President Trump signed executive actions on Tuesday reviving the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. Ed Fallon is the director of Bold Iowa, an organization fighting the Dakota Access and Keystone XL oil pipeline projects. Fallon said, “We’ve been saying all along it’s not a question of if a pipeline will leak, it’s a question of when and where and how bad it will be.”
“According to PHMSA, the agency has 533 inspectors on its payroll. That works out to around one inspector for every 5,000 miles of pipe. A government audit in October  found that that PHMSA is behind on implementing new rules. It has 41 mandates and recommendations related to pipeline safety that await rulemaking.”
The Army Corps of Engineers verification letter permits the construction of parts of the pipeline that cross bodies of water, including major rivers. While the Iowa Utilities Board previously granted development in parts of the state, this is the final regulatory hurdle for the Bakken pipeline. Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, a community organization that opposes the pipeline, is concerned about its crossing of 64 Iowa waterways.
Dick Lamb, a landowner in Boone county along the pipeline’s route, echoes their concern, “It isn’t a question of if, but when it will leak, and when it does it will irreparably destroy valuable Iowa farmland and the waterways we depend on.” An going lawsuit filed by 10 affected landowners challenges Dakota Access’ use of eminent domain to gain access to private Iowa land.
Many labor unions in Iowa look forward to the development of the Bakken pipeline. President of the Iowa State Building and Construction Trades Council, Bill Gehard, said, “Thousands of American workers from labor unions throughout the Midwest are already benefiting from this project, and these final permits will secure their jobs for the entirety of construction.”
The water crossing permits mandate follow-up inspections for compliance to regulation and monitored wetland mitigation. The finished pipeline will run from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota to Patoka, Illinois, crossing 18 Iowa counties along the way. It will move 570,000 barrels of oil daily into Midwest, East coast, and Gulf Coast markets.
This week’s On The Radio segment looks at the pending Bakken oil pipeline project which would stretch from the Bakken oil fields in western North Dakota to oil refineries in southern Illinois. If approved, the project would run through 18 Iowa counties.
Transcript: Bakken pipeline looms after Keystone XL
President Obama’s historic decision to strike down the Keystone XL pipeline could be undermined by another proposed pipeline running through Iowa.
This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.
A proposed pipeline starting in North Dakota’s Bakken crude oil fields and running through 18 Iowa counties is getting closer to state approval, with Governor Terry Branstad signaling his approval for the use of eminent domain for pipeline projects in November. Activists and landowners have been at odds with Texas-based Dakota Access, the company proposing the pipeline, for months as they try to establish eminent domain for the pipeline on private land. Most of the pipe would be underground, causing major concerns for soil and water quality as topsoil is removed and compacted during installation.
Unlike Keystone XL, the Bakken pipeline doesn’t need executive approval from President Obama because it doesn’t cross an international border. Instead, the pipeline would need approval from the Iowa Utilities Board, which began public hearings on November 12 with a decision coming in December or January. A Des Moines Register poll found 74 percent of Iowans oppose the use of eminent domain for pipelines.
For more information about the Bakken pipeline, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.
From the UI Center for Global & Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.
This week’s On the Radio segment looks at a recent poll that shows Iowans consider energy policies when choosing presidential candidates. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.
Transcript: Iowa Poll on Energy Policy
Iowa voters consider energy production to be a major factor when selecting candidates for the upcoming presidential election.
This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.
An April poll by the Consumer Energy Alliance found that 82 percent of registered Iowa voters said that they consider the energy policies of presidential hopefuls to be a major factor when selecting a candidate. The poll also found that 52 percent of Iowans support offshore drilling for oil in U.S. waters near Alaska, while 32 percent opposed it. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management finds that there are approximately 27 billion barrels of oil and 132 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the Alaska outer continental shelf.
Proponents of offshore drilling say that it will create jobs and lead to energy independence, while opponents cite environmental concerns with the drilling as well as with the drilling of fossil fuels.
For more information about the poll, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.
From the UI Center for Global & Regional Environmental Research, I’m Jerry Schnoor.
New estimates show that corn ethanol production could be worse for the environment than originally thought – even worse than the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.
Using U.S. Environmental Protection Agency date, the Environmental Working Group found that last year’s ethanol production process, including the conversion of millions of acres of arable land for use as corn crops, led to 27 million tons more carbon emissions than if Americans had used regular gasoline only. That’s compared to oil transmitted from Alberta, Canada to the Gulf Coast via the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which would emit 24 million tons of carbon per year.
The EPA’s Renewable Fuel Standard mandates that gasoline sold in the U.S. contains a minimum volume of renewable fuel. Critics argue that the promise of the standard to promote energy independence and reduce emissions was squandered by mass conversion of grasslands and wetlands to grow corn, releasing carbon stored in the earth and leading to decreased biodiversity. This also had massive implications for the food supply, with the proportion of U.S. corn crops dedicated to ethanol rising from 6 percent in 2000 to 40 percent in 2013. The conversion of more than 300,000 acres of wetlands between 2008 and 2012 alone released between 25 and 74 million tons of CO2 each year, according to an EWG estimate.
While the EPA predicts that emissions from ethanol production will be lower than that of gasoline by 2022 if ethanol plants use biomass as their energy source, critics are skeptical that plants won’t instead turn to cheaper natural gas. The EWG recommends cutting the ethanol mandate, while industry studies insist that ethanol production will continue to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over time.
Former state Rep. Ed Fallon will conclude his 400-mile hike across Iowa with an Earth Day rally in Des Moines today.
For 39 days, Fallon walked along the path of the proposed Bakken oil pipeline, talking with landowners and activists about their concerns over the environment and property management. Fallon supports an eminent domain bill in the Iowa Legislature that would prevent Energy Transfer Partners from condemning Iowa farmland without consent. He will host an Earth Day Rally to Stop the Pipeline today at the State Capital’s west lawn (People’s Park).
Fallon documented his conversations with Iowans along the pipeline route through a daily blog. He recalled conversations with farmers whose land was repeatedly trespassed by surveyors, residents whose homes would be within a few hundred feet of the pipeline, and town hall meetings where people discussed the issue at length.
In his meetings with Iowans along the pipeline route, Fallon had to counter the sense of inevitability created by pipeline representatives, who frequently met with landowners to inform them that the pipeline construction was unavoidable, and that they should sell their land to the company instead of waiting for it to buy at a lower price through eminent domain. Fallon assured these residents that the company proposing the pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners, still lacks authority to use eminent domain, and that legislation currently in the House and Senate would prevent them from using it as a ground for construction. While some Iowans have already settled with the oil companies, many are still holding out despite aggressive persuasion.
The rally will take place at 5 p.m., with talks by Fallon, two legislators and two family farmers. There will also be an open mic available for people to share their thoughts.