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December 19, 2014

Posts in "Environment"

December 12, 2014

Friday Q & A: World Shipping Council’s Christopher Koch, Part One

459737176 445x286 Friday Q & A: World Shipping Councils Christopher Koch, Part One

Cargo ships unload goods in the Tunisian port city of Rades. (Photo: Fethi Belaid/AFP/Getty Images)

The big-screen televisions and cotton shirts that Americans buy come across the ocean on container ships which make today’s global economy possible. We spoke this week with Christopher Koch, president of the World Shipping Council which represents Maersk, Hanjin, APL, and other major shipping companies.

Is there legislation likely to emerge from Congress next year that would be of concern to the shipping industry?

There’s nothing that the shipping industry is particularly looking to Congress to do next year. There’s always the ongoing question of the ports working with the Army Corps of Engineers on getting dredging money for particular deepening projects or maintenance projects.

Are U.S. ports at a disadvantage because not enough is spent on dredging, maintaining, etc?

In terms of the deep-water container ports, the major container ports are being maintained at the [required] depths – so Baltimore is at 50 feet, Norfolk is at 50 feet, New York, I believe, is finished going to 50 feet, Charleston is in the process of getting there, Savannah is in the process of getting to 48, Miami is at 50.

And on the West Coast you don’t have any draft problems at Seattle-Tacoma, Oakland or L.A.-Long Beach.

I think the ports, from a dredging perspective, are doing OK. They would like to have more money to get it done faster.

How has the decline in the price of oil affected the industry?

There’s always a lag. The shipping lines always try to recover their fuel costs from customers and their success is always questionable, so it’s always a cost pressure on them.

Clearly the dropping of fuel prices has been helpful to take some of the cost pressure off.

But at the same time, many of those fuel costs are recovered through something called a “BAF” or a bunker adjustment factor. For the contracts that use those kind of mechanisms, the price automatically drops to the customer when the fuel price drops.

I’ve seen reports that bunker [fuel] prices have been coming down since this price reduction started a couple of months ago.

At the same time, what the industry is facing, as of Jan. 1, is a very steep increase in the cost of fuel because of the implementation of the requirements in the emission control areas.

Emission control areas are areas set up by governments under the international marine pollution convention that provide particularly strict sulfur standards in marine fuel.

The U.S. and Canada have an emission control area jointly within 200 miles of the U.S. shores; there’s also one in the Baltic, one in the North Sea, and one in the Caribbean.

In those areas you have to use low-sulfur fuel and that’s considerably more expensive.

December 11, 2014

Libertarian GOP Member Sees Drone Privacy Risk

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Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Wednesday’s House Aviation Subcommittee hearing on drones was dominated by members’ complaints about the Federal Aviation Administration’s lateness in issuing regulations that would allow the unmanned aerial vehicle industry to grow.

But one panel member, Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., also had privacy on his mind.

While Massie is concerned that “the industry is being stifled” by the Obama administration’s slowness in issuing a UAV rule, he also worries that drones could violate Americans’ privacy.

Massie, one of the House’s outspoken libertarians, spoke in terms reminiscent of his fellow Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul, who during his drone filibuster last year said he worried about drones snooping on a person “swimming in their pool in their backyard or in the hot tub.”

Full story

December 10, 2014

North Dakota Gets Front Row Seat On Rail Stresses

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Scott Berreth, a derrick hand, works on an oil rig drilling into the Bakken shale formation outside Watford City, N.D. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

State lawmakers visiting Washington for the National Conference of State Legislatures Forum got a briefing Tuesday from a federal rail safety regulator and a representative of the oil industry on the issue of moving crude oil by rail.

Two-thirds of the crude from North Dakota’s Bakken region is being moved by rail. Bakken production is about one million barrels a day, accounting for about a quarter of U.S. production, according to the American Petroleum Institute, and could reach two million barrels a day by 2020.

Full story

December 8, 2014

Drones, Planes, Oil By Trains, Spending Bill Remains

The safety of drones flying in airspace they share with planes, the safety of shipping oil by trains and little transportation nuggets tucked into the year-end spending bill are all on the agenda this week as lawmakers try to finish business for the 113th Congress.


With many legislatures beginning their sessions in January, state lawmakers will be in Washington to swap ideas and lobby members of Congress as the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) holds its 2014 Forum this week.

A pressing issue facing state governments is the safety of rail shipment of crude oil and the congestion caused by North Dakota’s oil boom.

Full story

December 4, 2014

Despite Price Drop, Crude-By-Rail Remains Big Issue

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Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The drop in the price of oil since OPEC failed in its meeting last week to agree on production cuts has sparked speculation about whether production in North Dakota’s Bakken shale region will decline as some marginal drilling operations become financially less viable.

Some market observers see the drop in the price of railroad stocks since last week’s OPEC meeting as a harbinger of less Bakken crude being produced and less being moved by rail.

(The price of tank car manufacturer Greenbrier is down 20 percent since last Thursday’s market close.)

But whatever the price movements may indicate, crude-by-rail remains an urgent political issue.

Full story

December 2, 2014

Coast Guard Bill Looks To Arctic Shipping Future

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Vladimir Putin, center, with Prince Albert II of Monaco and Russian minister Sergei Shoigu at the 2011 International Forum on the Artic in Arkhangelsk. Putin pledged to turn the Arctic into a key shipping route. (Photo: Alexey Druzhinin/AFP/Getty Images)

The Coast Guard authorization bill, which committee chairmen unveiled on Monday is a nod to the reality that climate change could make Arctic commercial shipping viable.

Even with climate change, trans-Arctic shippers would need icebreakers and the bill requires the Coast Guard to make a final decision about reactivating an icebreaker, called the Polar Sea, now mothballed in Seattle.

Full story

November 19, 2014

Now Let’s Prep For The Next Keystone XL Vote

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Sen. Heidi Heitkamp. D-N.D., voted to approve the Keystone XL pipeline Tuesday (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

After the Senate fell one vote short of approving the Keystone XL oil pipeline Tuesday, Sen. Mitch McConnell, soon to be the Senate majority leader, vowed that another vote “will be an early item on the agenda in the next Congress.”

Since the Keystone XL issue will soon be back, note that even one of its most ardent supporters, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., doesn’t buy the argument made by Republican proponents that building it will ease freight railroad congestion.

Bakken crude oil is moved by rail from her state to refineries in other parts of the country, but has caused backups for shippers of other products.

Full story

November 17, 2014

Would Keystone XL Ease Rail Congestion?

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Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., Sen. John Hoeven, R-N. Dak., and Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., mke the case for the Keystone XL at a press conference in September. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate will vote Tuesday on a bill to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry oil sands crude from Canada and Bakken crude oil from North Dakota and Montana to a hub in Nebraska for delivery to Gulf Coast refineries. The House passed the bill on Friday.

The vote has election year resonance in the Louisiana Senate race, but for our purposes the pertinent question is: if the pipeline is built, what effect would it have on rail congestion in the northern Plains and Midwest?

Full story

November 5, 2014

Ebola Is Airports’ Rehearsal for Bigger Pandemic

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The main terminal at Washington Dulles International Airport. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

As the Ebola outbreak puts U.S. airport managers’ skills to the test, it’s providing a valuable training course for the next pandemic disease, one that might be more easily transmitted and might affect far many more passengers.

Christopher Browne, vice president and airport manager at Washington Dulles International Airport, told a panel on pandemic diseases at the American Association of Airport Executives’ aviation security summit Wednesday that “part of my duties is to chase anonymous vomit. That’s what my job has become.”

Full story

October 28, 2014

Q & A: Former Federal Pipeline Regulator Brigham McCown, Part Two

139286532 445x300 Q & A: Former Federal Pipeline Regulator Brigham McCown, Part Two

It isn’t just oil that is transported by rail: here’s a chlorine tanker car in Virginia (Photo: Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images)

Here is part two of our interview with Brigham McCown, the former acting head of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. (Click here for part one)

From the data, is it clear that one mode of shipping oil is safer? Is it clear that pipelines are safer than rail?

Government data suggests that pipelines do have a slight advantage, but the caveat there is all modes are extremely safe and PHMSA obviously regulates vessels, rail, trucks, aircraft, as well as pipelines, the whole transportation spectrum.

Full story

October 24, 2014

Friday Q & A: Former Federal Pipeline Regulator Brigham McCown, Part One

81089067 445x290 Friday Q & A: Former Federal Pipeline Regulator Brigham McCown, Part One

Gasoline tanker cars parked at a refinery in California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Brigham McCown served under President George W. Bush as acting head of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHSMA), which regulates shipment of materials ranging from oil to hazardous medical waste.

He also served as chief counsel of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which oversees trucking and buses.

He has formed the Alliance for Innovation and Infrastructure, a non-profit that will promote “innovative technologies and safer outcomes for national infrastructure projects.”

Here are some excerpts of our conversation with McCown:

Because of the public’s fear of accidents in shipping crude oil by rail, is more shipment going to shift to pipelines?

In a lot of instances, transportation infrastructure tends to lag the development of areas…. We’re now obtaining oil from locations where we previously haven’t.

While there is a mature pipeline infrastructure system in Texas, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, for example, it’s not unusual that that infrastructure lags behind production in the Bakken.

Full story

By Tom Curry Posted at 11:44 a.m.
Environment, Rail

October 22, 2014

Boeing: Oil Price Won’t Hurt Demand for Fuel-Efficiency

453149592 445x286 Boeing: Oil Price Won’t Hurt Demand for Fuel Efficiency

Boeing is counting on sustained demand for its fuel-efficient 787 aircraft (Photo credit should read Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty Images)

Aircraft manufacturer Boeing reported healthy profits Wednesday as Boeing Chairman and CEO Jim McNerney assured investors that declining oil prices won’t crimp airlines’ desire to buy more fuel-efficient planes.

McNerney seemed to allude to events such as the shooting down of Malaysia Flight 17 over Ukraine in July when he said, “Notwithstanding a somewhat richer mix of global economic and geopolitical developments throughout this year, which we are monitoring very carefully, global passenger traffic trends are strong and air cargo traffic continues to gradually improve, although the latter still remains a watch item for us.”

Full story

Bipartisan Accord on Travel Ban? Well, Maybe

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New Hampshire Republican Senate candidate Scott Brown (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

There was bipartisan accord in Tuesday night’s New Hampshire Senate debate that barring travelers from three Ebola-affected African countries is, or at least might be, necessary.

And there was bipartisan accord about the need to be bipartisan. And yet Republican candidate Scott Brown repeatedly attacked President Obama’s handling of the Ebola outbreak.

Full story

October 15, 2014

Ebola Issue Poses Campaign Opportunities And Risks

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Colorado Republican Senate candidate Rep. Cory Gardner (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

With Election Day 20 days away, the Ebola outbreak has become a campaign issue — on that presents as many pitfalls as opportunities.

Rep. Cory Gardner, the Republican Senate candidate in Colorado, will get an opportunity Thursday to demonstrate that he’s engaged in dealing with the outbreak.  Full story

October 14, 2014

European Agency Doubts Value of Ebola Screening

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Travelers at the international arrivals terminal at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport where new Ebola screening began Saturday. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is investing time and money in examining passengers from Ebola-affected countries at five U.S. airports, our colleague Paul Jenks reports that the European counterpart to the CDC came out with a report over the weekend that questions the value of such an effort.

The European agency says entry screening “is likely to have an exceedingly low yield and represents a high investment, which may only contribute to a limited extent, to the prevention of importation of the disease.” More here….


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