oil industry

Toxic acid puts millions at risk

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CPI's national look at the danger

ConocoPhillips refinery's record in Washington

How Tesoro's Anacortes refinery embodies slipping safety culture of oil industry

How journalists collaborated to bring you this story

For 170,000 people living in and around Bellingham, it’s a distinctly chilling scenario: Something goes horribly wrong at the ConocoPhillips’ refinery near Ferndale and over the next 10 minutes 110,000 pounds of hydrofluoric acid explodes into a cloud that goes on to burn the lungs of whole neighborhoods or towns, causing widespread shortness of breath, wheezing, chest pain and possibly even death.

The ConocoPhillips refinery is the only refinery in Washington using a chemical known as hydrofluoric acid, described by federal health officials as a “highly corrosive . . . serious systemic poison.” The stuff is so toxic that it can harm people up to 14 miles downwind, government records show.  

“You mean the most deadly chemical ever invented?” asked environmental activist Denny Larson of Global Community Monitor. “I’ve worked on refinery issues for 25 years. This has been a major issue for at least that long because it is known as one of the most deadly chemicals ever invented.”

Confirms Mark MacIntyre, spokesman for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Seattle:  “It’s horrible stuff. It’s some of the worst stuff in the spill-response world.”

Federal scientists ordered to do half-baked analysis of Alaskan oil-drilling plans, audit finds

When the Obama administration not long ago went ahead with what could become a major expansion of oil drilling off Alaska's coasts, it did so with full knowledge that its scientists hadn't been able to do a proper environmental review.

That's the upshot from auditors at the Government Accountability Office, an arm of Congress. And it appears that oil companies' pleas to keep some information secret from the scientists also played a role in the half-baked look at environmental threats, a new GAO report states:

"According to regional staff, this (secrecy) practice has hindered their ability to complete sound environmental analyses."

Those analyses are required under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA. Although the GAO report just came out, drafts had been available at the Interior Department, which oversees the offshore oil drilling, since sometime before March 1, records show.

The report says some scientists who were sick of being told to do a lousy job on environmental analyses just quit, further complicating the task for doing a first-rate job taking stock of the risks as required under NEPA. Remember, folks, we are talking here about the Obama admnistration, which, as we noted recently, seems reminiscent of the Bush administration on some enviro matters lately. This latest finding flies in the face of President Obama's chest-pounding about how his administration would end the era of arm-twisting government scientists.

Rugged individualist Alaskans get ready to suckle on their annual government handout

Today comes word of how much money, exactly, almost every man, woman and child living in Alaska will collect from the government next month.

Now, obviously one has to be just a bit different from most other Americans to go live in The Last Frontier State. And you have to give them credit for struggling through long, dark winters without (most of them) going stark raving mad.

But this annual announcement -- this year's check from the Alaska Permanent Fund will be $1,305 -- shows up a bit of a contradiction in Alaskans' political leanings.

To paint with perhaps an overly broad brush, Alaskans are known for being conservative, I-can-do-without-government types. Even former Gov. Tony Knowles, a Democrat, and current U.S. Sen. Mark  Begich, also a D, can hardly be classified as lefties, while their Rs -- Rep. Don Young and Sen. Lisa Murkokowski, as well as just-departed U.S. Sen Ted Stevens -- are longtime conservative stalwarts. (Sarah Palin, on the other hand, did at least talk a good game about keeping the oil companies in line. Before she wigged out ... uh, I mean retired.)

[caption id="attachment_4318" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Lisa Murkowski"]Lisa Murkowski[/caption]

But this annual check from the gummint? Isn't that welfare? Doesn't that make Alaska a welfare state? The money comes from the oil flowing off the North Slope. One-quarter of all lease revenues going to the state are diverted into the Permanent Fund, which invests the money and makes payouts in according with a rolling five-year average of how the investments are doing.

One thing those checks do is help cement Alaska's political leadership behind the oil industry.