Wednesday, January 28, 2015

More About Oil Spills

With increasing need for oil our society is becoming more and more vulnerable to accidents related to the extraction, transportation, and transformation (refining) of oil. The petrochemical industry including refineries are increasing their capacity to a level that is difficult to fathom. So it is necessary for us to be aware of the consequences of increasing activity.
The problem is that there is a disconnect between the regulators and the regulated. As we can see in the following article by Curtis Tate copied from The Oregonian today (January 28, 2015)

"Washington officials initially not told of oil spill

By Curtis Tate
   WASHINGTON — State and federal officials are investigating an oil spill from a railroad tank car atWashington state’s largest refinery last November, but key agencies were kept in the dark about it for at least a month.
   The delayed notification of the spill highlights gaps in communication and enforcement as more crude oil shipments 
travel by rail.
   According to reports reviewed by McClatchy, when the tank car arrived Nov. 5at the BP Cherry Point refinery, Federal Railroad Administration inspectors discovered oil stains on its sides and wheels. A closer inspection revealed an open valve and a missing plug. The car was also 1,611 gallons short, enough to fill the gas tanks of 100 Subaru Foresters.
   Neither the railroad, nor the third-party company that unloaded the oil at the terminal, however, could determine where the missing oil had spilled, making it likely that it had leaked somewhere along the train’s 1,200-mile path between the loading terminal in Dore, North Dakota, and the refinery, near Ferndale, Washington.
   The oil train route to Northwest refineries passes through national parks, along rivers and through the region’s population
   An oil release of that size from a marine tanker, a refinery or a storage facility would automatically trigger a well-established set of notification requirements that would result in the information about the incident flowing promptly to local, state and federal agencies.
   There are state and federal hotlines for reporting an oil spill, yet the November incident was not initially reported to any local or state officials. The Washington state Utilities and Transportation Commission found out on Dec. 3 when it received a copy of the report BNSF Railway submitted to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. Railroads have 30 days to file such reports.
   Courtney Wallace, a spokeswoman for BNSF, said that the train “was not in transit, not on our property and not in our
custody” when the spill was detected and that the company submitted the required reports to state and federal regulators. She also said that no one reported evidence of spilled oil along BNSF track, which follows the Columbia River and parts of Puget Sound and passes through at least five of the state’s 10 most populous cities.
   Scott Dean, a spokesman for BP, said the company “took this issue very seriously” and notified BNSF and Savage Services, which unloads the tank cars at the refinery. He added that federal regulators confirmed that the company had fulfilled its responsibilities.
   The information never reached the Washington state Department of Ecology, which responds to inland oil spills; the U.S. Coast Guard, which responds to oil spills along navigable waterways; or the Whatcom County Unified Emergency Coordination Center. All three first learned of the incident last week from McClatchy.
   The report BNSF filed to federal regulators indicates that no local emergency services were notified at the time of the incident.
   State law requires railroads to report any hazardous materials release to the state emergency operations center within 30 minutes of learning of the incident. The center’s 24-hour duty officer shares spill information with all levels of government. Karina Shagren, a spokeswoman for the state 
Emergency Management Division, said the department has no record of anyone calling to report an oil spill from a rail car at the refinery in November.
   State and local officials could have known about the spill sooner if it had been reported to the U.S. Coast Guard’s National Response Center hotline. The center shares information about reported spills to state and local agencies.
   Federal and state regulators are investigating.
   “If we discover that the shipper or the railroad ran afoul of federal safety regulations,” said Kevin Thompson, a spokesman for the Federal Railroad Administration, “we will take appropriate enforcement actions.”
   Kathy Hunter, rail safety manager at the state Utilities and Transportation Commission, said the commission is assisting with the federal investigation.
   The Department of Ecology also has launched an investigation.
   “There may have been a gap in reporting protocol,” said David Byers, spill response manager for the department. “We’re investigating to determine if there was one.”
   The rail industry and its regulators have been working to improve communication with state and local emergency response officials following a series of high-profile oil train derailments and spills in the past few years. Still, the November oil spill shows the kinds of hidden risks that continue to emerge in communities where the oil is transported by rail."

I didn't summarized the article because I think it is bringing important information that I wouldn't like to be out of context. My previous blog was about a pipeline now is about trains, it doesn't make any difference.

But the main point that I want to make is: If the people who don't want regulations are not able to regulate themselves, how can we as a society survive within a system in which the bottom line is profit, and not the wellbeing of the citizenry?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Oil spills and paying the bill

Accidents can't be prevented by definition. Everything we do as humans has certain degree of hazard. The hazardous nature normally come from the degree or level at which the human activity is realized. Of course the hazardous nature could be at a low level but the idea is that any damage can be contained easier if the amount is minor. Let's say that we are going to transport one barrel of oil and we have a spill, it is going to be easy to find a way for the clean up of this happening. But what if thousands or millions of barrels are spilled. It is going to be more difficult and costly to 'manage' and clean the spill.

So the question is: who should be responsible for the safe transport of chemicals like oil that if released to the environment are highly damaging?

Let's think about what is going on in Glendive Montana where thousands of inhabitants are not able to drink municipal water. To read more click here. Here you have a situation where many citizens are affected by multinational corporations doing business in our country.
Oil Spill under a frozen river
We know that these multinational corporations are employing people and by doing so they are supporting the communities in which they operate. But make no mistake, they are not giving anything back, they are getting much more of what they are paying to the community. They are recipients of 'rent" as Economy Noble Prize winner Joseph E. Stiglitz clearly explained in his book "The Price of Inquality"
Of course, the immense economic/political power of these multinational corporations are using our government for advantageous laws that allow them to externalize their losses at the same time that they maximize their profits by not paying fair taxes on the one hand and not paying for damages on the other hand.

It is little what we individuals can do to stop the damage to the environment by these huge corporations, and to help those that are directly affected by the overexploitation of  natural resources. But we should not be discouraged as we can do much if we act together. We should keep our enthusiasm as we are confident that at the end reason will prevail and we'll be able to have a sustainable economy.

What would you say about something you can do to keep this Earth livable?

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Dire changes in the Earth

In the Washington Post (January 15, 2015) we can read an article by Joel Achenbach (for the full article click here ) that makes reference to a scientific paper just published in the journal Science by 18 researches. It sure is an interesting article that in simple words warns us of the dire situation into which we are putting our environment. The news that we are destroying our environment is not news any more, even though almost every day the most important newspapers of the world are publishing articles about the deep seriousness of the issue. The New York Times for instance has in the Jan 15 issue an article by Carl Zimmer (for the full article click here) with this image:
Dead whales and other mammals being found in the oceans of the world are a sign that, as the article mentioned, "Ocean Life Faces Mass Extinction."

So if the news that we are destroying our environment are not news, what are we supposed to do?
Are we to become idle observers of the catastrophe? Or, are we supposed to become active advocates for taking care of our environment?

There are of course as many answers as are human beings, each one of us has to come to terms with each of our own answer. I know there are thousands of us that think that we are to become, and in some cases already are, advocates, activist defending our environment. Of course we have many ways of participating in this advocacy and many levels to engage in activism. Some can and will do it at a leadership level some other will do it as active members of a team where there will strengthen the effort by following the lead of someone else but always with the heart of knowing they are doing the right thing.

In his book "A Spirituality of Resistance" Roger S. Gottlieb states the dilemma of an ethicist expressing his concern that doing good for the environment is not simple, easy, nor immediate. Other issues like being against war, sexism (or sex discrimination), racism can be stated in simpler terms and one can (in a clearer way) be congruent with a position where our actions and our ideas go hand in hand. But, how can you do it when working in favor of the environment?

We know that burning hydrocarbons is creating a problem with our atmosphere, but how can we live without using our cars? We know that excessive use (or misuse) of plastics is also damaging our environment, but how can we live without the convenience of plastic? (As it is with many other 'conveniences' of our modern world.) This is the conundrum of the ethicist!

At Warner Pacific College we are teaching several classes that help us and our students clarify and address these issues. One course is Earthkeeping (HUM 212) that among other objectives has the one of describing the philosophic foundation of deep ecology. As we look at human nature from a philosophic perspective (with ethical and moral implications) we are able to see the need for balance and justice. Finding balance and justice in our actions and discovering that the problems facing our society come from a lack of balance and justice, becomes a central tenet of our conversation in class.

The need to continue educating our society on the dire situation facing our environment today will not end with a few words on a post like this, but we must continue spreading the word. Just look around and see how our society is not able to control the damage cause by our progress. I am thinking on what I see in the news almost every day. We hear about accidents and incidents, like the oil train derailment in  Galena Illinois yesterday that is until this hour burning. The issue here is that they are using the newly designed cars that are supposed to be safer, but as far as I know from the 103 cars loaded with oil from ND, 21 cars either exploded or caught fire and the blaze is so strong that firefighters don't have the means to fight the incident and are only letting it burn.

Can you imagine the damage to the environment?

Saturday, January 10, 2015


Passionate Advocacy for Our Home in Space.

There is the Universe, everything we know is part of the universe thus everything is related. We (humans) are an integral part of Earth's environment, and therefore we have a responsibility to perform our activities guided by a sense of stewardship. This stewardship (ethic that embodies the responsible planning and management of resources) has to be based on a deep understanding of how nature works. Including how human nature works.

At Warner Pacific College we have developed a hybrid (humanities/science) course called Earthkeeping that addresses the need to prepare students to be good stewards of God's creation. We look at both human and non-human nature. We teach the strong and intrinsic relationship between our human society and the natural resources that sustain it. As a Christ-centered, urban, and liberal arts college we base and foster our teaching on the liberal arts. We value service in and beyond the city therefore we promote active engagement. This means that teachers and students will have a dynamic participation during lecture times but we expect that participation will overflow to outside the classroom, both in space and time.

By asking fundamental questions about who we are; what motivations drive our actions; what is the connection between the satisfaction of our needs (biological and psychological) and the availability of natural resources; how can we balance individual and social needs (social justice); and more we establish a framework and a context that allows everybody to become an active participant that is holistically prepared to be an advocate for our home in space.

As we start the new semester this Tuesday, I am thinking about an initial question to ask. It is difficult to find one as so many are in my mind. What would be a question that you'd ask to start this conversation?  

Friday, January 2, 2015

Our Global Responsibility

This world of us is highly interconnected. There is not a single action that we take that is isolated from the rest of the world or the rest of society. There is no neutrality when it comes to our actions and the environment, including social environment.
When it comes to looking for our wellbeing we realize that our lives are interconnected within our spirituality, biology, sociology, and psychology with a greater sense of reality.
So one question we might pose is what is reality? As this question is too profound for me to be able to find an easy answer, it is better to translate it to: What is really going on with our environment?
In trying to find answers to the latter question I came across ideas that intertwine the physical with the metaphysical, that is the appearance of the connection between what we think and what we believe. In his book "A Spirituality of Resistance" Roger Gottlieb
makes sure that the reader find a strong sense of responsibility and accountability in connection to taking care of the environment. Using the way in which some Germans behaved during the holocaust Gottlieb emphasizes the strong need of humans to belong to society, to have a place in the 'production' line, and to be someone through what it is 'accomplished.' Gottlieb is direct in pointing out that we are guilty of harming the earth just by being complacent and unaware that with our daily routines we are contributing to an irreversible damage to the environment.
In the Oregonian today we read good news about an epidemiologist researcher at Oregon State University who is studying pollution at a global level. The article is a reprint from the Corvallis Gazette-Times. You can read the article here.
Perry Hystad received one of the Early Independence Award by the National Institute of Health. The $250,000 a year (for up to five years) will help Hystad continue his research correlating community with health risks. No doubt he will be able to get valuable information helping all of us understand how with our daily ramblings interact and change the environment. We will find for sure information that will help develop new strategies for social behavior, that will help all of us to have a much better life. Not only in the economic sense but in the holistic sense of spiritual, psychological, social, and material interconnectedness.

Have you ever thought about how your daily life is affecting the environment, and how you can change your lifestyle to have a positive effect?