Saudis spent $62+billion last year on armaments. Yemeni Houthis just attacked with $15K drones.

Half Saudi Arabia’s oil production shut down. 5% of global oil supply.

❝ Yemen’s Houthi rebels launched drone attacks on key Saudi oil facilities on Saturday, setting off blazes that could be seen from space and showcasing how cheap new technologies allow even minor militant groups to inflict serious damage on major powers…

It was not clear how badly damaged the facilities were, but shutting them down for more than a few days would disrupt world oil supplies. Between them, the two centers can process 8.45 million barrels of crude oil a day, amounting to the vast majority of the production in Saudi Arabia, which produces almost one-tenth of the world’s crude oil…

❝ The difference in resources available to the attacker and the victim could hardly have been greater, illustrating how David-and-Goliath style attacks using cheap drones are adding a new layer of volatility to the Middle East.

Such attacks not only damage vital economic infrastructure, they increase security costs and spread fear — yet they are remarkably cheap. The drones used in Saturday’s attack may have cost $15,000 or less to build, said Wim Zwijnenburg, a senior researcher on drones at PAX, a Dutch peace organization.

The Global Military-Industrial Complex still hasn’t learned crap about guerrilla warfare. Sure, the Pentagon and their peers know how to spend taxpayer dollars by the bucketload. They’re mostly backed up by political hacks who still think the best solution to civilized inequity is to resolve disquiet and resentment with weapons ranging from bullets to bombs. Nothing cheap of course. No self-respecting graduate of West Point would be found killing significant populations without delivery systems costing million$.

RTFA. Maximum cost per each of these drones was about $15,000. A third of the price of the average new pickup truck bought in the GOUSA.

Cookin’ with gas in Northern Mass

Cities in northern Massachusetts are evacuating after a local company, Columbia Gas, began “upgrading” gas pipelines – and apparently started a pressure surge which has resulted in fire and explosions in 70 to 100 homes. So far.

Here’s a link at the Boston GLOBE which will keep updating with the latest news, including videos, tweets from local fire departments. Several folks injured, hospitalized. One reported death. Gas and electric service has been turned off to the affected area to try to limit further explosions. Everyone has been ordered to evacuate.

Firehawks


Black Kite

Australia is no stranger to fire: The hardy landscape is adapted to blazes, enduring many thanks to humans and lightning. But Australia’s Aboriginal peoples have long identified a third cause: birds.

❝ In interviews, observations, and ceremonies dating back more than a century, the indigenous peoples of Australia’s Northern Territory maintain that a collective group of birds they call “firehawks” can control fire by carrying burning sticks to new locations in their beaks or talons.

The idea is that these birds of prey use fires to help find food—making easy meals out of insects and other small animals trying to flee the blaze…

❝ The anecdotes, compiled in a recent study published in the Journal of Ethnobiology, may lead some to rethink how fires spread through tropical savannas like those in northern Australia.

Terrific article. Especially including the natural history recorded by onlookers for generations.

Back-To-Back Deadly Oil & Gas Explosions in Colorado Communities


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❝ An Anadarko oil tank battery exploded in flames on Thursday afternoon, killing one worker and injuring three more, just 3.5 miles from the site of a deadly home explosion in Firestone, Colo., that killed two last month…

On the same day, state officials confirmed that two pockets of methane gas were discovered in the Oak Meadows community, in Firestone. Todd Hartman, spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Natural Resources (DNR) noted that the elevated readings on the left side of the image below were likely related to the existence of a tank battery and so not necessarily abnormal. The second pocket of gas was located underneath Oak Meadows Boulevard. According to the DNR, a preliminary investigation indicates that a flowline heading towards that road may have been cut when a sewer was installed there.

❝ Earlier this month, Governor John Hickenlooper ordered a statewide review of all oil and gas operations following the Firestone home explosion. The explosion was traced to an uncapped flowline from a newly activated gas well, both owned by Anadarko. The line was buried seven feet underground but was accidentally severed near the home’s basement. It leaked odorless gas that exploded, killing homeowner Mark Martinez and his brother-in-law Joey Irwin, both 42.

❝ Oil and gas producers in the state faced a deadline of May 30 to complete inspections and a deadline of June 30 to fix any problems found. In the meantime, about a hundred homeowners in the Oak Meadows neighborhood have filed suit against the owner of the well, Anadarko Petroleum, the past owner of the well, Noble Energy, as well as the home builders and developers.

❝ For years anti-oil and gas activists have been clamoring for greater distances between homes and oil and gas activity. In 2013, Colorado increased setbacks for new wells to 500 feet. But there are no statewide regulations regarding what is known as “reverse setbacks,” the distance that new homes must be built from older wells.

Anyone think people are more important than profits? Get in the way of serious money-making natural resources and you will learn about eminent domain faster than a bolt of lightning. Or a natural gas explosion.

Big freight railroads miss safety deadline — Aw, shucks


Click to enlarge — Chatsworth collisionIngo Wagner/AFP

Three of the biggest freight railroads operating in the U.S. have told the government they won’t meet a 2018 deadline to start using safety technology intended to prevent accidents like the deadly derailment of an Amtrak train in Philadelphia last May.

Canadian National Railway, CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern say they won’t be ready until 2020…Four commuter railroads — SunRail in Florida, Metra in Illinois, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and Trinity Railway Express in Texas — also say they’ll miss the deadline.

The technology, called positive train control or PTC, relies on GPS, wireless radio and computers to monitor train positions and automatically slow or stop trains that are in danger of colliding, derailing due to excessive speed or about to enter track where crews are working or that is otherwise off limits.

The other four other Class I freight railroads that operate in the U.S. — Union Pacific, BNSF, Canadian Pacific and Kansas City Southern — and more than a dozen commuter railroads have told the agency they will meet the 2018 deadline…

Amtrak, the nation’s only long-distance passenger carrier, began operating a version of the technology on all tracks that it owns in its Northeast Corridor between Washington and Boston and in some other parts of the country in December. But most of Amtrak’s operations outside the Northeast take place on tracks belonging to freight railroads, making it dependent on them to install the technology. Many commuter railroads are in the same position.

After a 2008 collision between a commuter train and a freight train in Chatsworth, California, killed 25 people, Congress passed a law requiring railroads to start using the expensive technology on all tracks that carry passenger trains or that are used to haul liquids that emit toxic gas if spilled.

The deadline for the change was Dec. 31, 2015. But after it became clear nearly all railroads would miss the deadline, Congress passed another law in October extending it to Dec. 31, 2018. That law also permits the government to grant waivers through Dec. 31, 2020…

Anyone surprised?

Railroads ignore the need for updated safety rules after derailments


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A pair of train derailments in 2012 that killed two people in Maryland and triggered a fiery explosion in Ohio exposed a little-known and unsettling truth about railroads in the U.S. and Canada: No rules govern when rail becomes too worn down to be used for hauling hazardous chemicals, thousands of tons of freight or myriad other products on almost 170,000 miles of track.

U.S. transportation officials moved to establish universal standards for when such steel gets replaced, but resistance from major freight railroads killed that bid, according to Associated Press interviews with U.S. and Canadian transportation officials, industry representatives and safety investigators.

Now, following yet another major accident linked to worn-out rails — 27 tanker cars carrying crude oil that derailed and exploded in West Virginia earlier this year — regulators are reviving the prospect of new rules for worn rails and vowing they won’t allow the industry to sideline their efforts…

In the meantime, federal regulators haven’t taken the positive steps that they need to, said Ronald Goldman, an attorney for the families of the two 19-year-old women who died in a 2012 derailment outside Baltimore.

“It’s a lack of will, not a lack of ability, in my opinion,” he added…

Um, lack of integrity?

All sides agree it’s difficult to pinpoint how many accidents are tied to worn rail. Since 2000, U.S. officials blamed rail wear as the direct cause of 111 derailments causing $11 million in damage.

That’s less than 1 percent of all accidents, yet it masks a broader safety dilemma: Years of massive loads rolling over a rail will exacerbate defects in the steel, such as cracks or fractures. Investigators ultimately list the defect as the cause of a derailment, but it might never have been a problem if the rail had not been worn down.

Two accident causes in particular have the strongest correlation with worn-out rails: “detail fractures” that result from fatigued metal, and “vertical splits” in the head of the rail, where it makes contact with a train’s wheels, according to the FRA.

Those problems caused a combined 1,200 derailments with $300 million in damages, three deaths and 29 people injured in the U.S. between 2000 and the present…

The AP requested details on rail wear standards from each of the seven major freight railroads — BNSF Railway, Union Pacific, Canadian Pacific, CSX, Canadian National, Norfolk Southern and Kansas City Southern. They either refused the request or referred questions to the railroad association, which also declined to release the standards.

Railroad have been above the law even longer than oil companies. It’s no wonder they believe their self-regulation is the only way to run a railroad. No doubt.

Refugee camp set on Fire as Paris suffers terror attacks


Photo of Calais fires from Twitter

The refugee camp known as “the jungle,” in the French port of Calais, was set on fire Friday night just hours after a series of coordinated attacks rocked Paris, leaving over 120 dead and hundreds injured.

Local authorities have not confirmed yet a connection between the two events, but the coincidence has prompted speculation that the fires were set as revenge, despite a lack of proof.

Sherlock Holmes’ response to coincidence is worth recalling: “The universe is rarely so lazy”

Organizations on the ground have said on social media that the damage had been caused by a small fire that got out of control. According to unconfirmed reports around 40 makeshift homes were destroyed, but no refugees sustained any injuries.

At least 15 refugees have lost their lives in Calais since the end of June while trying to make their way through the undersea passage into the United Kingdom. Some 6,000 people are living in the “jungle.” Most of them are fleeing conflict-hit zones in the Middle East and Africa.

The situation in Calais is part of the current refugee crisis across Europe. According to the International Organization for Migration, 773,244 refugees have reached Europe’s shores so far this year, while a total of 3,423 people have either died or gone missing.


Refugees in Calais in a vigil of solidarity with Paris this morning

The beat goes on…

Copper parks in tall grass after stopping motorcycle — car goes up in flames

A witness to the intense fire said the police officer pulled over a speeding motorbike rider at the intersection of Wivenhoe-Somerset Drive and Northbrook Parkway near Mount Glorious but when the bike took off again, it looked like the officer tried to give chase.

“Next minute the bloody cop car drives down the bank,” truck driver David Hunn said…

The Logan resident, who’d been out for a ride on his own motorbike, said the bike rider had stopped about 50 metres up the road.

He said by the time the police officer had “scrambled” up the bank and yelled at the rider to stop, there was smoke coming from the long grass under the unmarked car, likely from the hot exhaust pipe.

The 65-year-old said it was only minutes before flames had completely engulfed the car, which was eventually left a blackened shell.

“It was long grass so the car was basically nestled in the grass,” Mr Hunn said.

“It just caught fire straight away basically.”…

Mr Hunn described the stretch of road coming down from Mount Glorious as “a racetrack at the best of times” and accused both the motorcyclist and policeman of driving like maniacs.

“The bike came around me and I thought ‘shit he’s going quick’,” he said,

“The next minute, the bloody car came past me with no siren on. He was going like a bat out of hell.”

Mr Hunn said according to the rider’s friends they were going as much as 180km/h and the police car was catching up with the bike.

He said the officer caught up with the bike at the T-intersection, where he cut him off and attempted to block him in…

“If he’d kept the speed down a bit and saw which way it was going, he could have had the posse out and waiting for him because a bloody radio’s quicker than a bloody motorbike.”

A mate of mine down in Oz sent me this. Don’t know how he stopped laughing long enough to press the send key.

Yes, he’s a biker.

Thanks, Honeyman

Just another oil train derails, catches fire — let it burn, baby, burn!

A BNSF Railway train loaded with crude oil derailed and caught fire on Thursday afternoon in a rural area south of Galena, Illinois, according to local officials and the company.

The incident marks the latest in a series of derailments in North America and the third in three weeks involving trains hauling crude oil, which has put a heightened focus on rail safety.

Dark smoke was seen for miles around the crash site, and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency told local WREX.com that two of the cars were potentially on fire. Images posted online by Dubuque Scanner showed flames several hundred feet high, while aerial footage showed the wreck spread across two sets of track.

The train with 105 loaded cars – 103 of them carrying crude oil – derailed around 1:20 p.m. CST (1920 GMT), according to a BNSF statement. The incident occurred on what appears to be a major rail line alongside the Mississippi River that handles as many as 50 oil-trains a week…

BNSF said there were no reported injuries and no evacuations…Eight cars derailed…six of which had tumbled onto their side…

It was also not immediately clear where the train originated or where it was heading. Chicago, which is 160 miles east, is a major rail hub for shipments from both North Dakota and Canada’s oil sands. It was unclear if the train’s tank cars were older models widely criticized for being prone to puncture during accidents.

About 40 to 50 oil trains come through the area each week…The accident is just the latest involving oil trains in the United States and Canada.

State and federal bureaucrats are predictable as ever. Everything is under control. Which means no one was killed, this time.

That’s probably what it will take to get qualitative change in safety requirements – for the rail cars, train speeds vs. quality of roadbed and rail standards. Face it, folks. Most of these systems haven’t been upgraded in a half-century. After John Wayne and Walt Disney finished winning World War 2 – our government was so thoroughly owned by the Detroit auto industry and fossil fuel producers that consideration of upgrading rail transit for people and products was a non-starter.

People forget we had a cabinet officer named Charles Wilson, former CEO of GM who famously said, “what was good for our country was good for General Motors – and vice versa”.