Sunday, March 16, 2014

Green Party Whack-A-Mole: Fight Pipelines, Then Freak Out About Oil Trains

Ursula Rozum of the Syracuse-area Green Party was given a blank slate as "guest columnist" to take on a new crisis — the risk of moving crude oil by rail and barge — in the Post-Standard, March 16.

I originally started a reply, optimistically thinking I could keep it within the paper's 250-word limit on letters to the editor.  But of course that didn't work out, so I'm sticking it here.

Here's what I don't like about this:  Rozum refuses to accept responsibility for the fact that she's the one that whacked the mole in the first place.

More domestic oil going by rail and barge through New York State is a supply-and-demand response to two contemporaneous phenomena:  The technological advance of fracking
(which Rozum never once mentions, but is of course against) credited with now producing much more North American oil, and political conflicts waged by the left that kill or delay new pipeline construction, notably Keystone XL (a fight which Rozum of course supports).

Keystone, when it's built, will serve as the primary takeaway infrastructure for the product of both oil sands out of western Canada, and also fracked shale oil out of North Dakota's Bakken field, all headed toward already-built refineries on the Gulf Coast.  Environmentalists have fought Keystone from the beginning, and they're still at it, even though the battle is now finally winding down in the face of reality.  The only trouble is that ceaselessly waging this kind of ideological war has unintendedly worked to push much more oil to travel (for the time-being, and more unsafely) by rail and barge through such far-flung places as Albany, NY — a fine kettle of fish over which the irony-challenged green contingent now finds itself also freaked out. 

Similarly, there's now a proposal afoot from Pilgrim Pipeline Holdings to avoid conflict over all that Hudson River barge traffic by building a new oil pipeline out of Albany, to be routed either within or closeby the southbound Thruway corridor, toward the concentration of existing refineries in New Jersey.  Are the greens gonna come out in favor of that?  (Sorry — I amuse myself.)

Don't get me wrong — I'm all for learning from such catastrophes as at Lac Megantic, Quebec, and for beefing up the federal regulations governing oil transport by rail.  What I'm not in favor of is Rozum and her allies escaping any blame for having helped to cause this very crisis.  Rozum simply doesn't take ownership for the consequences of her own battle, but instead winds up coming out against everything and anything that has to do with fossil fuels.

Fracking?  She's against it.  Oil trains?  She's against them.  Pipelines?  Opposed.  More propane storage in Watkins Glen?  Not on her watch.  Doing away with asthma and acid rain from a coal plant at Ithaca's suburb of Lansing by re-powering with natural gas?  Not even that.

If you act against fossil fuels in your own life, that's fine with me.  I hope Rozum and her supporters are paying extra to buy all-renewables electricity, rather than the coal-frack-nuke mix that National Grid and most third-party energy providers sell.  (Though something tells me the market share for this sort of boutique energy consumption is far lower than even the Green Party's most recent election returns.)  And I hope they've also capped their natural gas service at home and at work, and are heating just with that all-renewables electricity, or maybe some firewood, or maybe some geothermal, or maybe some conservation.  (None of this hurts anybody else, but something tells me this also remains a pretty fringe effort.)  I hope they're also either riding a bike, or plugging in an electric car at home.  (Again, admirable, and harmless, but so far of limited impact.)

If you've got the time and the money for this kind of thing, it's within your justly wielded power as a consumer, and more green power to you, I say.

But it's gonna take a helluva lot more than consumer choice, enhanced passenger train service, or taxpayer-subsidized renewables to make up for all the fossil fuels (and nuclear, and industrial wind power, and hydropower) that are marked for "nyet" by all the various branches of Rozum's green army.

When you argue against something that benefits the rest of us, you also implicitly argue for the inevitable consequences.  To me, those who politically throttle North American fossil fuels development at the choke-point of certain key developments (such as fracking, or Keystone) simply wind up favoring more imported oil, more imbalanced trade, more military conflict overseas, more environmental risk, more domestic unemployment, and more tax and cost-of-living expense for we 99 percent.

The bottom line is that Rozum and her team are partly the source of my country's unemployment, poverty, dead soldiers, and needless environmental risk.  You ask me, I think she should just own it, and revise her arguments accordingly.


Frank Cetera said...

You focus soley on the fact that the Greens are "against" fossil fuels, and that is true, because we are "for" renewables. That is the root of the point that you are missing. ou o realize that fossil fuels are limited in supply right? Talk about putting us at risk for reliance on foreign oil. What do you think continuing to build and sustain ourselves on fossil fuel infrastructure is doing in the knowledge that these are limited in quantity for our future. Wouldn't you rather have the money being spent now on renewable infrastructure that would make us truly energy independent?

Andy Leahy said...


I'd rather transition slowly and rationally off of fossil fuels over the next 50 or 100 years, as the supply winds down.

A short six years ago, the environmental community spent relatively little time or money hyping the dangers of the production or transport side of fossil fuels. Green thinkers assumed oil and gas was in the process of phasing itself out, due to scarcity-driven high prices.

Now the technology has changed, and production is increasing, and the current price is killing renewables.

This could go on for some time.

So that's why we're seeing the parallel boom in politicking on these issues. Those who can, do, those who can't, lobby.

jpweiss55091 said...

Boil this down to 250 words for the Syracuse paper. Your writings are great and need to be seen.

pCBB said...

Ms. Rozum is confusing two Global rail imports into the Port of Albany for shipping down river to refineries: Canadian tar sand bitumen and US Bakken shale light oil. The former is so thick that Global wants to build five heaters to ease transfer from rail to ship. It has very low volatility. That project is now on hold as DEC reviews expected pollution from those heaters. The shale oil is exceptionally volatile and DEC has requested the feds review precautions for and response to a rail accident of Bakken tankers. It is this oil that the Pilgrim Pipeline is proposed to carry south to refineries in NJ, and refined products back north. Canadian bitumen would still be shipped down river.

Only the Bakken shale oil is fracked. In all fairness, she can not be blamed for the spike in Bakken rail transport. Given the typical rate of permitting and construction of pipelines, Bakken output has increased too quickly for pipelines to keep pace.

The standard rail petroleum tankers were not designed to carry so explosive a cargo. The general population has been put needlessly at risk by the O&G industry because it would not wait to ship Bakken oil from Nebraska until the transport infrastructure could adapt with more pipelines, safer tankers, or both.

The freight rail industry also bears some of the blame because for decades they have fought safer (and more expensive) petroleum tankers.