Exporting LNG

A recent New York Times article discusses Cheniere Energy’s efforts to develop its Sabine Pass terminal in Corpus Christi, TX, to process and export liquefied natural gas to global markets.

The article reports on the long-term infrastructure investment strategies of energy companies seeking to expand the marketplace for natural gas extracted through hydraulic fracturing in the United States.

The article also notes some interesting factors that shape the market for natural gas, including the nature of the substance itself and the requirements of transportation infrastructure.

The article states, “Unlike oil, which has been moved around the world for decades in supertankers, natural gas, as a vapor, is much more complicated — and expensive — the transport. While pipelines carry natural gas over long distances, the only way to move it across oceans is through the L.N.G. process. Natural gas vapor is chilled to 260 degrees Fahrenheit below zero, turning it into a liquid that can be pumped aboard specially designed ships that keep it under pressure with minimal change in temperature. Upon arrival, the liquid is slowly warmed and converted back into conventional natural gas that can be delivered to customers.”

Nelson D. Schwartz, “How Cheniere Energy Decided to Take a Gamble on Liquefied Natural Gas,” The New York Times, October 16, 2017.


Whiting refinery, 2011 expansion

This is a 2011 article about what was then the proposed expansion of the BP Refinery in Whiting, Indiana, the southeast side of Chicago. The expansion was planned in order to process additional tar sands oil piped in from Alberta. The Whiting refinery, over a century old, is one of the largest in the United States, and sits on the south shore of Lake Michigan. In addition to air pollution, the refinery complex discharges ammonia and suspended solids — sludge — into Lake Michigan.

“Because tar sands are much heavier and contain more sulfur than conventional oil, they must be diluted with a volatile natural gas product to make them sufficiently liquid to be shipped,” explains the article. “Once they arrive at Whiting, these toxic compounds need to be removed and disposed of during refining.”

In addition, the refinery’s air emissions include volatile organic compounds, particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, benzene, and lead.

A citizens group called the Calumet Project, partnering with the Global Community Monitor, based out of California, were challenging the expansion.

The tar sands facility being built at the BP Refinery in Whiting, Ind., formed the backdrop to a soccer game in 2011. John Konstantaras/Chicago News Cooperative

Northern Wisconsin Tribe Seeks Removal of Pipeline from Land

The Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa announced that it will not renew some of its easement agreements with Enbridge Energy Partners, a major pipeline company.

Enbridge’s Line 5 runs through norther Wisconsin and transports about 540,000 barrels per day of light crude oil and natural gas. Segments of the pipeline cross tribal lands.

In the wake of protests against the development of the Dakota Access pipeline, which galvanized national attention on issues of native land rights and clean water, the decision not to renew the easements represents yet another gesture of local opposition to the fossil fuel industry.

Enbridge was caught by surprise and its spokesperson told Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) that the company hopes to work with the tribe to find a resolution.

According to WPR, however,  Bad River Tribal Spokesman Dylan Jennings explained that “No form of compensation or negotiations will change our decision. We stand pretty firm on this. It’s not about the money. It’s about the environment and what we leave behind for our next generations.”

The tribe seeks to have the pipeline removed from its land, but recognizes that the situation is uncertain and a complex legal battle may lay ahead.

For the complete story, see:

Trans Mountain Expansion

The Canadian government recently approved a proposal to expand an existing pipeline to transport bitumen from Alberta to Vancouver for export to international markets. The Trans Mountain Expansion project is spearheaded by Texas-based energy infrastructure company Kinder Morgan. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the federal government’s approval of the project in late November.

Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain

The project will create a “twinned pipeline,” expanding capacity from 300,000 barrels per day to 890,000 barrels per day. It represents a significant boost to Alberta’s struggling oil industry.

But pipeline expansion will also cause increased oil tanker and barge traffic out of Vancouver. According to The Guardian, “Conservationists warn that the spike in tanker traffic would be disastrous for the resident orca whales – a genetically unique population that is already classified as endangered in both Canada and the US.”

In addition to the impact on orca whales, The Guardian reports that dozens of municipalities and First Nations communities have declared opposition to the project. The existing pipeline has operated since the 1950s and over 80 spills have been reported. The Trans Mountain runs through several populated areas.

Several lawsuits are seeking to overturn the federal government’s approval of the pipeline expansion project.


Exploding Homes

I was back home in the Chicago area for the holidays last week. My parents happened to mention that a house in their community had recently exploded. That’s right. Exploded.

They live in Homer Glen, a far southwest suburb of Chicago.

According to local news reports, in the afternoon of December 15 residents near 143rd and Parker began reporting the “rotten egg” smell associated with a natural gas leak. NICOR, the natural gas distribution company that services much of northern Illinois, began alerting residents, asking them to evacuate their homes. One home exploded around 4:30pm, injuring two residents, and destroying the house.

A photograph posted on the “Homer Glen Home Explosion Fund.” Source unknown.

Over a dozen homes in the area were evacuated in subsequent days as NICOR worked to identify and cap the natural gas leak, and restore distribution.

I have been unable to find information as to what exactly caused the leak and explosion.

When I was searching for information about the incident, I also found a news report from this past October describing a separate natural gas explosion at a home in Romeoville, another far southwestern suburb just west of Homer Glen. Two townhouses were destroyed, and two NICOR workers who were repairing the gas leak were injured. The report notes that the exact cause of the leak and explosion were under investigation.

Last month, a natural gas explosion killed a power company employee who was working to fix a ruptured gas line in Canton, IL.




Work under the fossil fuel regime

For communities in parts of Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania, coal mining has sustained local economies for multiple generations. Priorities within the current regime of fossil fuel production and consumption have shifted in recent years, however, with increasing emphasis on natural gas.

Many mines have decreased operations or even closed, leading to unemployment and economic uncertainty. Donald Trump tapped into this anxiety with promises of restoring jobs in coal and energy production, railing against “job-killing” regulations. But many wonder if putting coal miners back to work is possible.

As NPR notes, “The market of coal consumers is rapidly shrinking as utilities convert to natural gas. In 2008, coal-fired plants produced 48 percent of the country’s electricity. Last year, it was down to 33 percent.”

Part of this shift is due to air pollution regulations that have encouraged natural gas as an alternative to coal, but it’s also due to the expansion of hydraulic fracturing technologies and the increase in unconventional energy production.

Across the Ohio River from Powhatan Transportation Center – owned by Murray Energy – is a power plant that services mines in West Virginia. (NPR)


Belle Fourche pipeline rupture

The Associated Press has a nice primer on the recently discovered rupture of the Belle Fourche pipeline in North Dakota. Among other details, the article compares the Belle Fourche to the Dakota Access pipeline, which has been the target of protest at Standing Rock and elsewhere.

The Belle Fourche is a 6-inch steel “gathering” pipeline built in the 1980s to transport oil to collection points, where it then “moves into larger pipelines or railroad tankers destined for refineries across the U.S.”

The Dakota Access is a 30-inch steel “transmission” pipeline that will carry 20 million gallons of oil daily some 1,200 miles to a shipping point in Illinois.

Debate over the Dakota Access project has centered on pipeline safety, especially risks to water supplies. Advocates argue that pipelines are safer than other transportation options, such as truck or rail.

Pipeline leak in ND

A pipeline leak was recently discovered just a couple hours drive from a camp where protesters are challenging construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

For more details, see:

According to the report, more than 176,000 gallons of crude oil leaked from the Belle Fourche Pipeline into the Ash Coulee Creek. The leak was discovered on December 5 by a landowner near the city of Belfield and was contained soon after by Wyoming-based True Cos., the company which operates the pipeline. True Cos. operates three pipeline companies with 1,648 miles of line in Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming.

Electronic monitoring equipment failed to detect the Belle Fourche Pipeline leak. The 6-inch steel pipeline was built in the 1980s and is mostly underground. The spill migrated almost 6 miles from the point where leak originated.

The report states that “True Cos. has a history of oil field–related spills in North Dakota and Montana, including a January 2015 pipeline break into the Yellowstone River. The 32,000-gallon spill temporarily shut down water supplies in the downstream community of Glendive, Montana, after oil was detected in the city’s water treatment system.”

True Cos. has reported 36 spills since 2006, totaling 320,000 gallons of petroleum products.