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Goldman Sacks-Backed Firm Invests Big in Oil-by-Rail Plan Along Keystone XL Pipeline Route

New deal will facilitate transportation of tar sands from Alberta to Oklahoma

USD Partners, a rail terminal operator owned in part by Wall Street giant Goldman Sachs, has signed a nearly three year deal to facilitate moving tar sands by train from where it is extracted in Alberta, Canada, to an offloading terminal in Stoud, Oklahoma, in a route mirroring that of the Keystone XL pipeline.

photo of fansPhoto by Kurt Haubrich An empty oil train passes a loaded oil train in St. Paul, Minnesota. A new deal signed by USD Partners will facilitate oil transportation out of Alberta, Canada.

From Stroud, the heavy oil can be sent via pipeline to the nearby oil storage hub in Cushing, Oklahoma. USD's announcement, which said the company could transport up to 70,000 barrels per day of tar sands in rail cars, came in a June 2 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

The deal, centering around the purchase of the Stroud terminal, also included the acquisition of 300,000 barrels of storage space in Cushing, a town known by oil and gas industry observers as the “pipeline crossroads of the world.” 

“We are proud to announce the successful repositioning of an underutilized asset to create a competitive network solution for our new customer’s growing oil sands production,” Dan Borgen, CEO of USD Partners, said of the deal in a press release. “Our Hardisty to Stroud rail solution delivers immediate takeaway capacity, preserves the integrity of our customer’s heavy barrels and enables substantial end market optionality at Cushing with available pipeline capacity to the Gulf Coast.” (Note: Tar sands are also known as “oil sands.”)

Ironically, as reported by DeSmog's Justin Mikulka, Goldman Sachs penned a 2013 report titled, “Getting oil out of Canada,” which said tar sands-by-rail was not economically viable. However, in the years following that report, USD, with the backing of Goldman, has entrenched itself more deeply in the tar sands-by-rail market.

In Hardisty, Alberta, where the tar sands-by-rail journey begins, USD Partners owns a major oil-by-rail shipping facility. The Hardisty facility currently has the ability to handle two tar sands-by-rail shipments per day, equivalent to 120,000–140,000 barrels per day of crude. This latest deal will represent a quarter of the site's business.

image of oil-by-rail routeCourtesy of USD Partners

“Inbound product” shipped from Alberta to Stroud “is delivered by the Stillwater Central Rail, which handles deliveries from both the BNSF and the Union Pacific railways,” explains the USD Partners press release. BNSF is owned by Warren Buffett, who is a major campaign contributor to …more

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Forced to Endure Extreme Heat, Texas Prisoners Becoming Casualties of Climate Denial

Dangerous prison conditions likely to worsen as heat waves intensify with climate change

graphic depicting a prison

On a spring day in May, temperatures in Dallas, Texas, were already in the 90s. Sunlight glinted off the barbed wire perimeter outside the Hutchins State Jail, located just a mile down the road from Hutchins High School. The first blooms of Castilleja, colloquially known here as "prairie fire," seemed to set a field across from the prison ablaze.

It was hot outside, but it was nothing compared to the temperatures inside the Hutchins Unit, one of 79 state-run prison units still lacking air-conditioning in its cellblocks in 2017. Even those temperatures, though, still pale further in comparison with the extreme summer heat wave that broiled the jail on July 28, 2011, pushing the heat index up to about 150 degrees in the cellblocks, according to the state's own records, and transforming the jail into an oven that slowly baked Hutchins prisoner Larry McCollum alive.

McCollum, a 58-year-old cab driver from the Waco area, was found having convulsions in his top bunk. He was taken to Dallas's Parkland Hospital, where his body temperature was measured at 109.4 degrees Fahrenheit. McCollum, who was incarcerated for writing a bad check, had recently begun serving his 11-month sentence, and was eager to get through his time and reunite with his wife and two children.

photo of fansPhoto by Rob Fahey The TDJC has acknowledged 22 heat-related deaths in its prison units. The deaths are likely the first few indications of what may be a much larger heat problem

"He was taken from us. He was supposed to go in for 11 months, and he wound up with a death sentence," McCollum's daughter, Stephanie Kingrey, said. "It was very heartbreaking that he had to sit there and suffer as long as he did before they got any help for him or got him to emergency room."

Kingrey said that officials with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) even tried to deny her access to her father during the seven days he spent on life support at Parkland Hospital, eventually relenting as Kingrey and other relatives were forced to make the devastating decision to take McCollum off of life support.

"They had guards on him 24 hours, like he was just going to jump up and go somewhere, and he was handcuffed to the bed the whole time," Kingrey says. "He was literally brain dead, and there …more

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Wendell Berry as a 21st Century Apostle of Jeffersonian Democracy

In Review: Look & See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry

Look & See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry is a poetic new documentary about an American eco-icon of our age. The Kentucky-born, 82-year-old Berry is a poet, essayist, novelist, academic, and farmer who has long been a force to be contended with on the environmental scene. Since 1958, Berry’s artistically expressed championing of conservationism has earned awards and fellowships from a wide range of entities, including government agencies, museums, foundations, publications, grassroots and professional organizations, and educational and religious institutions.

photo of Wendell BerryPhoto courtesy of Look & SeeA young Wendell Berry with his son in the woods of Kentucky.

In 2011 President Obama awarded Berry the National Medal of Humanities; his co-recipients included novelists Joyce Carol Oates and Philip Roth.

Directed by Laura Dunn and Jeff Sewell, and produced by Robert Redford and Terrence Malick, Look & See paints a motion picture portrait of its subject and the themes that have consumed Berry over his lifetime. The 82-minute nonfiction film uses realistic, as well as impressionistic, techniques, along with sometimes-elegiac music, to convey a sense of Berry and his philosophy. Wood engravings by Wesley W. Bates, an artist who has often provided pictorial accompaniment to Berry’s poetry, periodically appear onscreen.

The film opens with a montage of images of strip-mined mountains, machines chopping down trees, polluted rivers, and the endless hum of city life, set to a voice over reading of Berry’s poignant poem, “A Timbered Choir:”

“Even while I dreamed I prayed that what I saw was only fear and no foretelling,
for I saw the last known landscape destroyed for the sake
of the objective, the soil bludgeoned, the rock blasted.
Those who had wanted to go home would never get there now…”

Like a book, the story on screen unfolds through numbered chapters entitled “Imagination in Place”, “The Unsettling of America” and so on, as a series of subjects, including Berry family members, friends, neighbors, and several farmers in Henry County, Kentucky are interviewed. Their stories highlight how the people of Henry County, like many rural communities across this country, are struggling to hold on to their sense of place as well as the agrarian virtues of sustainable land stewardship in the face of the ever-expanding march of industrial agriculture.

Though a passionate defender of the simple, agrarian life, Berry is wary of how the camera frames (literally and metaphorically) people seen onscreen, and proves to be elusive in the film. …more

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Scientists Yet to Pinpoint Specific Cause of Shark Die-Off in SF Bay

Strandings can be stopped if efforts are made to improve Bay water quality and marine habitat, says conservationist

You have probably heard of whale strandings, where whales beach themselves for unknown, but possibly human-caused reasons. But in the San Francisco Bay Area right now, shark strandings are the talk of the town. Hundreds of leopard sharks (Triakis semifasciata) have been washing up on Bay Area beaches and marshes over the past three months. Sharks have been found dead on beaches in Foster City, Hayward, Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco and other areas around the Bay.

photo of leopard sharkPhoto by Eric Heupel Hundreds of leopard sharks have been stranding on Bay Area beaches over the past several months, but researchers have yet to determine the exact cause of the die-off.

Similar, massive unexplained die-offs occurred in 2006 and 2011. However, the root cause of such die-offs continues to elude researchers. 

Leopard sharks are the most common shark in the San Francisco Bay Area and are not listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. However, these predatory fish, — which eats crabs, other small fish and mollusks and can grow to up to 5 feet in length — are an important part of the Bay marine food web. Researchers suspect that they are being exposed to pathogens when they congregate in shallow waters in the springtime to give birth.

Dr. Mark Okihiro, a fish pathologist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, suspects that a fungal pathogen could be infecting the meninges – the tissue covering the brain — disorienting the sharks and causing them to strand themselves on land. But he says that the fungus is most likely not only pathogen that’s affecting the sharks. Okihiro, who has been working tirelessly to investigate why leopard sharks are stranding, released his preliminary findings last week.

So far, Okihiro has performed 10 necropsies on recovered sharks and was able to successfully isolate a fungal pathogen from the tissues of three stranded sharks. When these sharks were found on local beaches, they were still alive, but were so close to death they would not have survived even if they had been returned to the water. “Necropsies...have shown the infection is in their brain and inner ears,” which could explain their confusion and how they end up on shore, John Traverso, a spokesperson for the fish and wildlife department said in response to emailed inquiries. Researchers are yet to detect the specific species of fungus causing the infection. 

The brain tissue …more

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Mexico City Takes a Stand on Animal Rights

New constitution has some of the strongest animal welfare language in the Americas, say advocates, though enforcement is wanting

In Mexico City, the taco stand is the great leveller. People from all walks of life mingle as they partake in their country’s most famous cuisine. Whether it’s office workers grabbing dinner on their way home or late-night revellers fuelling up before heading out to the bar, these are places where everyone comes together.

photo of dog walker, mexico cityPhoto by Andrew Griffith A dog walker out and about in Mexico City. The city's new constitution recognizes animals as sentient beings.

But this particular taqueria, located at the corner of Manzanilla and Chiapas in the fashionable Roma neighbourhood, is a little different. The haircuts are trendier, tattooed patrons are more common, and loud punk rock replaces the traditional Méxican music normally heard through crackling speakers. The biggest difference though is what’s on the menu. While Por Siempre Vegana Taqueria may offer up the traditional tacos al pastor and chorizo flavors, the food here is completely vegan. In many ways, this taco stand is a reflection of a city in flux.

One of the city’s transitions has been around animal rights: A new constitution, published in February of this year, includes some of  the most powerful pro-animal language of any constitution in the world, according to its authors. In a country where bullfights and cockfights are part of everyday life, how did we get some of the most stringent animal rights language?

A City In Transition

Mexico City is the most populous city in the Western Hemisphere, but it’s density is difficult to explain. Nearly 9 million people live there, but that number more than doubles when you include the surrounding state. Though the streets and buildings blend seemlessly between the city and its suburbs, the new constitution doesn’t stretch that far, and applies only within city limits.

Broad political changes are taking place in the city. For the last hundred years or so, La Ciudad de México has been run similarly to Washington, DC — the federal government has been in charge of administrative and budget decisions, rather than a state or local entity. Currently, however, the city is becoming something more akin to a state in its own right, which is how the new constitution came about.

A strong rebranding campaign has also been underway to modernize the city, which has included changing its official name from Distrito Federal (or simply DF) to CDMX (for Ciudad de México). The city is the art and cultural center of Mexico …more

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‘We’re Collateral Damage,’ Say Louisiana’s ‘Cancer Alley’ Residents of Industrial Development

The shadow of Trump’s deregulation push looms as St James residents fight chemical plants, pipelines, and laissez-faire policies

“We’re sick of being sick, we’re tired of being tired,” said Pastor Harry Joseph of Mount Triumph Baptist Church, which serves this sleepy riverside town of about 1,000 residents, mostly poor and African American. Once a bucolic village of pasturelands and sugarcane fields on the banks of the Mississippi, St James, Louisiana, is now a densely packed industrial zone in the heart of Louisiana’s petrochemical corridor, commonly referred to as “Cancer Alley.”

photo of St James Parish, LouisianaPhoto by Benjamin White About ten years ago, St James, Louisiana was rezoned from residential to industrial, paving the way for highly concentrated development and exposing residents to the impacts of industry.

It’s only anecdotal evidence of what life is like here, but Joseph says he has buried five residents in the last six months, all victims of cancer.

After a $1.9 billion methanol plant recently broke ground and with another $1.3 billion methanol plant and a controversial new oil pipeline planned for the area, Joseph’s one-room church has become a staging ground for an environmental justice fight — albeit one with tempered hopes under Donald Trump, even before he served notice on the Paris accord on climate change last week

Joseph has emerged as the de facto leader of a group of local residents demanding residential buyouts — for those who say they have had enough and struggle to sell their homes — and pressuring state and federal agencies to halt further development. With regulation that critics say is loose and incentives-rich, even by Louisiana standards, St James offers a glimpse into the type of unchecked development that Trump has hailed as a precondition for American jobs and economic growth.

The town’s location on the Mississippi river and accessibility to cheap oil and gas feedstock make St James what Louisiana Economic Development, a state agency, described to The Guardian as an “ideal” site for large industrial projects. About ten years ago, the town was rezoned from residential to industrial, paving the way for the highly concentrated development seen today. Fifteen large industrial sites — mainly oil storage facilities, pipelines, and petrochemical plants — now fill the 13-mile stretch of road that defines the town of St James, also known as the fifth ward of St James parish.

Yet residents here say they’ve seen little economic benefit — either in jobs or tax revenues — from the industry that has taken over the town. Instead, they say, they’ve been saddled with a …more

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In Search of Paradise Lost in Tierra del Fuego

In southern Chile, the native Yaghan are all but gone and the region’s glaciers are in danger of following in their footsteps

Far, far south, at the tip of Latin America, some tens of thousands of years ago, the retreat of the massive Patagonian Ice Sheet began to expose the contours of the Strait of Magellan, separating Tierra del Fuego from the South American mainland. By the arrival of the first canoe people between 6,000 and 7,000 years ago, the extent of the ice — which would once have covered the entire tip of southern Chile — had already shrunk dramatically. Over the millennia that followed, the Yamana, or Yaghan — the world’s southernmost ethnic group, which once inhabited the Beagle Channel from the Brecknock Peninsula in the northeast, to Cape Horn in the southwest — adapted and evolved to live in reciprocity with this wild and unforgiving landscape, famous for the wrath and unpredictability of its seas. Yet all this would change in 1520, when the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan first set sight on the strait that would go on to bear his name. For the Yamana, the arrival of the European colonizers set off a chain of events that ultimately proved fatal. Today only one full-blooded Yaghan survives.

photo of Patagoniaphoto James KellyRomanche Glacier in Chile's Alberto de Agostini National Park. Climate change is taking its toll on the region's glaciers.

An unspoilt paradise until well into the nineteenth century, in less than two hundred years, Tierra del Fuego has seen its Indigenous inhabitants wiped out by colonization, and the effects of climate change now threaten the erosion of its glaciers. Perhaps unconnected at first sight, both processes — the retreating glaciers, on the one hand, and state-sponsored ethnocide, on the other — share their roots in the advent of our modern world, upsetting the finely tuned balance that allowed the region’s spectacular landscapes to evolve in a gradual process over many thousands of years, together with their peoples and ecosystems. With the Yaghan now all but gone, the glaciers are in danger of following in their footsteps.

The Yamana were a nomadic people whose main source of subsistence was the sea: Their diet revolved around the gathering of shellfish, such as mussels, whose shells were discarded in giant mounds, which can still be seen today at Bahía Mejillones on Navarino Island. This staple was supplemented by berries, eggs, sea birds, seals, and occasionally guanaco meat. They lived in small family groups, although from time to time, a beached whale would provide a feast around which …more

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