RON SCHALOW: There Will Be More Blood

From a marketing standpoint, it was a serious breach of intellect.

It’s 101 material. If you send out a product that explodes and kills people, you aren’t smart enough to grow hair. Mushroom clouds always draw bad press. There’s no middle ground.

“Chad, does our new shiny thingy explode?” “No sir.” “Ship it. Where are we going for lunch?”

Or, “Hello, Samsung! My luggage is kinda charred. I think my $80,000 Rolex was in the bag, too, oh, oh, and a bottle of Macallan Lalique 50 Year old.”

Some problems don’t have a solution, this one had an easy fix.

They all knew.

The first batch of fracked Bakken crude wasn’t just poured into a pipe, or a waiting tanker car. It was tested at an atomic level. They don’t call them petroleum engineers, because they CAN’T figure out the ingredients of carbon based liquid matter and easily separate the elements of the translucent golden fully cooked bubbly concoction that came out of the North Dakota ground.

They (use your imagination) sat at a table one day in the mid 2000s, and one guy, who I’ve heard has since had his conscience deflated with an ice pick, said, “We know that if we put this on a train, and there’s a derailment, it’s going to burst into a Dante level inferno, right?”

Scary silence. Then, another voice groans, “There is no way for us to deal with the explosive gases intermingled in the crude besides burning it off, is there?”

“Nope. No infrastructure. We would need stabilizers, gathering lines, processing plants for the butane, propane, ethane, methane, the other thanes, and means of distribution.”

“Why didn’t we do all of that first? Are we stupid?” yelped someone who thought he was important. His body was never found.

“Screw that, and screw you, whoever you are,” shouted a short gent with matching hedgehog eyebrows. “We make money now, while the price is up. Pour everything in the tankers. They pay either way. We can afford to kill a few people. What’s the going rate per body?”

It could be said that this was a cart before the horse situation, but burning down an inhabited town is a bit more weighty than an annoyed Clydesdale.

And unless they were totally detached from the realities of their job, regulating oil development, North Dakota officials, including Kevin Cramer, Wayne Stenehjem, and John Hoeven (former member of the North Dakota Industrial Commission), knew the danger of shipping a mixture of these elements. Or standing close to it. It tastes OK, though.

Statoil, Continental, Whiting, Oasis, and the other sociopathic entities had no incentive to make the infrastructure happen because no one running this state dreamed of making them do the proper thing. It would cost the oil geezers money and slow the whole works. So, the oil Kings turned down proposed pipeline projects, didn’t install stabilizers, and didn’t invest, or entice investment in facilities for ethane, propane, butane, and the other valuable gases. And everyone who should have been freaking out, looked the other way.

Pipelines should have been in the works nearly a decade ago, and sited with consideration for the environment. And maybe they could have avoided sticking both thumbs directly into the eyes of the First People.

And nothing has changed. Nearly every time I ask a lawmaker, or state official, why they aren’t stabilizing, YET, they say, “But there’s no infrastructure to do that.”

That’s the bloody point!

It’s 2016. Where the hell is it? Was I supposed to do it? I don’t even have a decent hole-digging shovel. Infrastructure doesn’t just pop out of the ground like mushrooms, even though that would be cool.

I’ve been shouting into a stiff westerly wind about this for nearly 3 years. The only North Dakota legislator to utter the word “stabilization” in chambers last session has moved to California, to a town that is one of the destination points for Bakken oil trains. The Bakken curse.

The Bakken oil trains keep blowing up and upsetting people, especially the odd ducks who don’t want to be cremated before a natural death, on a city street, and swept into an oily gutter.

The fire chief of Mosier, Ore., is still whiter than usual, and shaking, just at the thought of what the damage would have been, when a single sheared off track bolt caused the derailment, fire, and explosion, of a Bakken oil train, that would have burnt down the entire town, had the wind been blowing like normal through the Columbia River Gorge. Spilled oil gummed up their sewage system, but none reached the river, so yay for abnormal weather conditions.

But instead of fixing the problem, you get excuses and whining; “They really do seem to be picking on us,” said Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem. Lob a Molotov cocktail through your neighbors kitchen window, and see if you get picked on by the survivors. Stenehjem is also a member of the North Dakota Industrial Commission.

Former Public Service Commissioner and current Congressman Kevin Cramer, the proud owner of an oddly configured brain, said it is “discriminatory” to call Bakken crude by it’s given name, in a feeble attempt to obscure the source of the danger from the rest of the continent. When some murderer was poisoning random boxes of Tylenol in the 1980’s Chicago, did the authorities withhold the brand name? No, because that would have been stupid and irresponsible.

“Well, whenever they refer to it as Bakken crude, you have to conclude they are discriminating because crude is not categorized, or characterized by it’s origin, by it’s location, by it’s geography.

It should be characterized by it’s characteristics, it’s scientific and chemical make-up, so I think the rhetoric get’s a little reckless. It tends to favor a particular point of view, a bias in advance, and that’s what I want to do away with on the 9th.” Don’t look at me. I wanted to call it Wilhelm, after my Grandfather.

But if the Holy Cramer is serious about a different name, I hear that New Coke is available, if they decide go the rebranding route. Bakken crude is also fizzy, but it doesn’t taste all syrupy and too sweet like Pepsi, as New Coke did. It’s more of a 977 proof pale ale. Add a shot of toluene, xylene, hexane, or benzene, and you have a party. Leave the hydrogen sulfide in the cupboard, along with the Asparagus Schnapps.

And at an online Town Hall in 2014, Cramer answered a question I planted this way; “This is what I would say about removing the volatility, IF THERE IS A SCIENTIFIC WAY TO DO THAT, and I know there are people working on it.”

The oil industry was WORKING on it, a big boned tortoise’s lifetime ago, and using the process of stabilization for many decades. The Saudi’s have been wisely stabilizing their crude before loading it on the expensive ships since televisions weighed 700 pounds, and the Texans do it as a matter course, and their infrastructure wasn’t included with the land, either. It’s good to know that our Congressman will lie so easy

A few weeks later, to another question I posed, the congressman backed away from his former nonsense, but spun another yarn. He’s worried about the economics, as though he has pay to the costs himself, and propane or butane, are not a problem for the oil industry to distribute, but bullet trains (do we have those?) made up entirely of natural gas sounds scary, but that’s not how it works.

“I don’t know whether that (stabilization) is necessary or not. That’s part of what we will be exploring in our hearing in the science committee, because is it scientifically possible to strip it out? Obviously, of course, it is…but when you apply not just that, but the economics, and remember, you can strip those light elements off of the crude, but that has to be shipped as well, so in many respects, filling a train with nothing but the light elements, the more explosive, if you will, elements, and making that a bullet train; I’m not sure that is the right answer, so scientifically can you do it, sure, but you have to look at it holistically and consider all of the other elements; including economics, and is the benefit of doing something like that trump other things like speed of trains, and what kind of cars. There are other things to consider. That’s why I think a congressional hearing is the next best step, dealing specifically with the science of the crude.”

That big Science (Space, and Technology) Committee, where we store the greatest scientific minds in the Congress, September 9 meeting took place two years ago. Nothing has happened. Cramer invited his buds from the North Dakota Petroleum Council to testify. They’re the ones who said it was totally safe to ship Bakken crude in the DOT-111 tanker car, which was originally engineered to move corn syrup, even after multiple derailments plus blasts.

One of Cramer’s witnesses John Auers, said, “If I threw a match into Bakken crude oil it would not ignite it.” Auers is an Executive Vice President at Turner Mason & Company. Turner, Mason is an energy consulting firm that wrote “The North Dakota Petroleum Council Study on Bakken Crude Properties” report for the North Dakota Petroleum Council.

Do it with a lit match, junior.

“There are some benefits frankly to the stabilization process and that is stripping some of the liquids, some of the other gases off and using them in the market place. That is a far better solution that just stripping it for the sake of stripping it.” People are dying while Kevin’s no exceptions free market ideology kicks in, but that’s a price our congressman is willing to pay. Bucks before bodies. He continues to rebuke the federal government for encroachment, as he cheers on the oil trains that jeopardize 25 million people across the country.

And my favorite:

Congressman Cramer: “With regard to the responsibility of producers to reduce the volatility I’m not sure…I don’t know if there is in law, or statute, a responsibility. You may argue there is a MORAL responsibility to do that.”

I do argue for doing the moral, responsible, thing, thank you, sir. And I look forward to your remarks when several hundred body bags are lined up in the gymnasium of a small town New Jersey high school. Try to smirk that one off, Mr. Oil E. Tool.

Then, there’s Doug Goehring, North Dakota’s Agriculture Commissioner and another member of the three-person North Dakota Industrial Commission, who groused; “Stabilization is like having mini-refineries, and in order to effectively stabilize the amount of crude leaving the state, the prairies of western North Dakota would need 250-plus mini-refineries.” That’s one way. They are about the size of an old Suburban.

To which I say, so what? Goehring isn’t bashful about allowing the siting of a refinery within spitting distance of a national park, or voting against “special places,” so what’s his real problem?

And Gov. and Industrial Commission member Jack Dalrymple said, “there were not enough facilities in place in North Dakota to make that (stabilization) a viable option.” Viable for who, Governor? There aren’t enough trees, either, so there should be plenty of room for those “facilities,” to be put in place. Another regulator more concerned about the finances of the oil Lords, than the safety of his constituents.

And finally, the head oil regulator in state, the director of the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources, Lynn Helms, who supposedly works for the people of North Dakota and reports to the Industrial Commission. He’s special.

On Dec. 16, 2013, Helms said his agency and the State Pipeline Authority (with some cahooting with the ND Petroleum Council) are working to create a white paper that would study the characteristics of the state’s oil “to dispel this myth that it is somehow an explosive, really dangerous thing to have traveling up and down rail lines.”

He said this after tanker cars filled in the Bakken blew sky high, and blocks wide, in August 2008.

Not mythical. Recorded nicely by a helicopter news team, since it happened only 30 miles from Oklahoma City.

Lac-Megantic, Quebec, July 6, 2013. Forty-seven people dead. Five vaporized. Not mythical.

And then came the fiery towers outside of Aliceville, Ala.

Then Casselton. No. 4. Two weeks after his moronic pronouncement. Visible from I-94. No white paper ever showed up. Then; Virginia, Illinois, Oregon, West Virginia …

Finally, Helms conceded; “Oil that hasn’t been properly conditioned at the wellsite can be stabilized, but that would include an industrial system of pipelines and processing plants.”

Evidently another one worried about the cost to the oil Czars, because we sure as hell don’t have a space problem. To which I say, that’s their problem?

But our boy regresses, stating in a Letter to the Grand Forks Herald; “The fact is that stabilization is a process used not on crude oil …” Only for generations, so it was a big fat lie, but Helm’s never suffers any consequences for anything he says, so why not.

These guys aren’t regulators and lawmakers, they’re lobbyists.

Then, there are an assortment of apologist newspapers, and dancing bears, like Forum Communication blogger Rob Port, who is delegated with rationalizing every spill, explosion, employee death, and negative impact, caused by the oil companies, and attacking every critic with lies, misinformation and smear campaigns. He also sounds like a shouting blue cartoon dog on the radio, but cartoonish is his thing, so it works out.

Port wrote this cute headline, after a Bakken oil train finally didn’t explode after derailing near Culbertson, Mont., “Is A Bomb Train Still A Bomb Train If It Doesn’t Go Boom?”

Oh, I don’t know. Is a grenade still a grenade if doesn’t explode? Is a landmine still a landmine?

What a dip.

So, how did the whoring for the oil conglomerates work out? Did letting them skip essential steps make the marketing of the Bakken easier, or harder? Is it a plus to have distribution channels dry up, because cities have simply refused to accept the product, since they value the lives of their citizens more than commerce? Is it helpful to have a paragraph about the Lac-Megantic disaster in every article about the Bakken, where over 1,000 firefighters participated?

There didn’t have to be demonstrations across the U.S. and Canada. New proposed regulations to set a national vapor pressure, possibly at 9.0, wouldn’t be winding their way through Congress.

The Secretary of Transportation and other federal agencies wouldn’t be breathing down certain necks. Senators wouldn’t be barking, and governors wouldn’t be ordering their assistants to whip off a nasty letter to North Dakota.

Will it be a cheap experience, when the Feds inevitably take over, and demand safety? Is that why Kevin Cramer and Harold Hamm are pulling for Trump?

From the state, when it comes to public safety; we get nothing, but a window dressing order to the producers to keep the Reid Vapor Pressure, a measure of volatility, at or below 13.7, and 2 more railroad inspectors. The oil companies have to keep the temperature on their heater-treaters at 110 degrees, a few bumps more than a stiff fever, which accomplishes nothing. 80% of crude coming out of Bakken already meets the vapor pressure standard, plus most of the explosions involving Bakken oil was already below the 13.7 mark, and the decimation of Lac-Megantic happened at 9.33.

Bismarck officials ran through a simulated oil train derailment, and assumed that some of the< town’s buildings would be devastated or destroyed, and there would be over 60 or 70 casualties.

No biggie. I guess, since nobody in Bismarck even perspired a bit on the forehead.

But if Native American’s start to gather in a walking manner, and slow the work of any company associated with the oil industry, the governor runs in his socks through halls of that tall building, shouting, “Public safety. Public safety.” He eventually dozes off in one of the elevators. The motion is very soothing, but he hasn’t gone unheard.

Operation DiCaprio kicks in. It’s a cross between Route 66 and Full Metal Jacket. Roadblocks are set up to catch somebody doing something. Mace, dogs, and skeet shooting at threatening plastic drones. Arrest journalists, strip search celebrities, wake Port and Hennen. Suddenly decide that some (wink) citizens SHOULDN’T be carrying guns.

Millions of dollars are being spent because the oil industry is being inconvenienced, but nothing is being done to prevent downtown Seattle from going up in smoke. We can stop wondering who runs this state.

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