More domestic coal to move by barge 

The railroads’ loss may be the barge industry’s gain. Crude oil shipments from frack friendly areas such as North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields have eaten up railroad capacity, leaving commodities such as coal and grain with fewer transportation options. “We’re seeing a tremendous amount of crude oil and chemicals, fracturing sand, Bakken oil moving by rail,” said Mike Toohey, chief executive, Waterways Council Inc., a trade association representing the barge industry. “Oil is considered a higher value commodity, so it gets the rail capacity.” In other words, railroads make more money hauling oil than grain or coal. Thus, coal is now increasingly being trucked to the water, then loaded on to barges and taken to power plants whose inventories are suffering because of the below average temperatures last winter. Toohey said they wouldn’t know how big the increase is for a couple of years. “These are [barge] companies that are not publicly held companies, so their movements are not made public,” said Toohey. “It’s only when the Corps of Engineers puts out the numbers that move through its locks that we get some accurate tonnage numbers, and that usually takes about two years. What I can say is that barge industry business is very good right now.” 


Shell may take another shot at the alaskan Arctic 

Royal Dutch Shell submitted a plan to the federal government in late August to again try to explore for oil in the Alaskan Arctic, following years of legal and logistical setbacks as well as dogged opposition from environmentalists, according to The New York Times. Shell’s proposed programs consist of two drilling rigs working simultaneously in the Chukchi Sea, which could produce more than 400,000 bbls. of oil a day. The oil giant emphasized that it had not made a final decision on whether to drill next summer, but said that the filing with the Interior Department preserved its options. Several environmental groups were quick to say they would oppose Shell’s latest plan, including with court challenges, if it receives government approval, the Times reported.


NMC clarifies mariner exam rule 

The National Maritime Center (NMC) has made a clarification to its mariner exam regulations. The NMC said in August that mariners seeking an original national endorsement or raise of grade based on training or service started before March 24, 2014, will be examined under the regulations in effect before that date unless they have specifically requested to be examined for their endorsement under the final rule published by the Coast Guard on Dec. 24, 2013, (78 FR 77796). On March 24, the final rule (78 FR 77796), “Implementation of the Amendments to the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW), 1978, and Changes to National Endorsements,” became effective. The rule introduced changes to the content of merchant mariner credentialing exams.