Risk Insider: Joe Boren

Calculating the Costs of Fracking

By: | January 5, 2015 • 2 min read
Joseph L. Boren is Chairman of the Environmental product line at Ironshore Holdings (U.S.) Inc., Executive Vice President of Ironshore Insurance Services, LLC, President of U.S. Field Operations and Director of Strategic Relations. He has experience in every segment of the environmental market; a regulator, practitioner, and insurer. Joe can be reached at joe.boren@ironshore.com.

In October 1973, the U.S. experienced a major energy crisis.

Initiated by an OPEC oil embargo, Americans were left scrambling to try and deal with a sudden and severe fuel shortage that seemed to go on forever.

Gas was rationed to 10 gallons per purchase, and the wait for that meager amount often stretched to hours. Stations only accepted cash. Frustration and anger provoked fights among those waiting in line.

In response, President Richard Nixon vowed that we would become energy independent as a nation; we would never again be held hostage by foreign countries for energy. Czars were named and task forces formed.

Guess what impact these efforts produced? Zero.

Sure, we built some nuclear power plants and gave out additional drilling permits. But the urgency of the issue dissipated when the gas lines eased and Americans were no longer inconvenienced.

Energy independence was dropped as a priority and the issue became a periodic campaign slogan.

Yet, even without political leadership, the American energy industry found a real path to energy independence.

Yet, even without political leadership, the American energy industry found a real path to energy independence.

The innovation is called hydraulic fracturing (fracking for short).

We had long known of extensive U.S. oil and gas reserves that, if tapped, would provide energy independence. But existing drilling technology was inadequate to remove the energy from the ground.

Fracking was the answer. In a previously unimaginable short period of time, we became the number one oil and gas producing country in the world.

Huge new reserves were tapped, long-struggling communities became boom towns, and “U.S. energy independence” transformed from fiction to inevitability.

But like most things in life, a decision to act (or not act) comes down to an assessment of risk. Who takes it? How much? Who pays if something goes wrong?

And last week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the results of his own fracking risk assessment.

From a professional risk management perspective, the insurance industry came to a very different conclusion.

Quoting a four-year-in-the-making “independent” health and environmental study conducted by New York State, and feeling protected by his recent re-election, Gov. Cuomo banned fracking.

The reasons? Concerns about water contamination and air pollution, plus insufficient scientific evidence to affirm the safety of fracking.

From a societal perspective, the reactions were predictable.

Environmental groups and the democratic left applauded. Residents and political leaders from parts of New York State where the economy was suffering and oil and gas resources are plentiful demurred.

From a professional risk management perspective, the insurance industry came to a very different conclusion.

Based on our own analysis and real world experience, we concluded that the risks are manageable and insurable, just like the environmental risks from many other U.S. industrial companies.

While Gov. Cuomo is busy calculating the political costs, we as an industry back up our assessment by putting our capital at risk. And then we work with our energy clients to ensure that the risks associated with fracking are constantly monitored and managed.

As a New York resident and an environmental risk professional, it’s a sad day to see such disconnect between public policy and effective risk management.

Read all of Joe Boren’s Risk Insider contributions.

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Recycling Risks

Green But Not Clean

Recycling may be the right thing to do, but it carries its own set of risks.
By: | December 10, 2014 • 6 min read
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The recycling industry is poised to continue growing as humans put greater stress on the planet, and technology allows more efficient extraction of useful materials from spent products.

Although recycling may be green, the process is not clean, and it carries many of the same risks as other heavy industries, plus some additional pollution exposures.

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Even as environmental laws and regulations grow more restrictive, many recyclers still underinsure their operations for pollution.

Typically, the recycling industry’s claims look like the claims affecting any heavy industry’s. The risks to recyclers of a product are similar to the manufacturer of that product, experts said.

“When a pollution claim hits, it hits big,” said Daniel Curran, director of underwriting for several of Willis’ environmental programs, including RecycleGuard.

Many recycling companies underestimate their environmental liability exposure and take a pass on the insurance.

Even so, the market for pollution insurance is a “sizable” $1 billion — a rough estimate, since hard numbers don’t exist, said Mary Ann Susavidge, environmental chief underwriting officer at XL Insurance.

The law requires more regulated companies, such as landfills and hazardous waste recyclers, to buy environmental insurance, while others, including “R2 certified” electronic recyclers, are contractually obliged to buy it.

There are also larger companies that see environmental insurance as true asset protection even if they are not required to purchase it.

Then, there are some less regulated companies, including paper and scrap recyclers, that tend to have operations of $5 million or less. Those companies often regard pollution coverage as a discretionary expense, experts said.

“Fifty percent of the accounts I look at gamble on their general liability covering an environmental spill, fire or contamination and they don’t protect their assets,” said Matt Gartner, assistant vice president of underwriting at XL Insurance.

“They don’t expect an incident, but bad things happen to good people,” he said.

Stacy Brown, president and managing partner of Freberg Environmental Insurance, recalled a small business with a large above-ground storage tank that dislodged during one of the increasingly frequent major floods on the East Coast.

“Fifty percent of the accounts I look at gamble on their general liability covering an environmental spill, fire or contamination and they don’t protect their assets.” — Matt Gartner, assistant vice president of underwriting, XL Insurance

The tank floated downstream, struck a tree and spilled five thousand gallons of oil into a river. Fortunately, the company had pollution insurance, which covered the million-dollar-plus remediation that would otherwise have forced it into bankruptcy.

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Many insurance companies request an environmental audit to limit their losses to catastrophic “acts of God.”

When Brown underwrites a facility, he looks for the company’s degree of compliance with federal, state and local environmental laws. Even before he walks in the door, he looks at publicly available records, compliance histories, permits, and Google Earth, which shows the physical plant, stacks of recovered materials and above-ground storage tanks.

Regulations guide the underwriting process. If the company handles hazardous materials, are they stored in the proper tanks? Does it have a storm-water management plan? Where does it store used oil?

“I look at cleanliness. Housekeeping tells a lot about how a company is run,” Brown said. He looks at records, since companies may accumulate certain waste materials for only a certain time, and whether they’re filed neatly or jumbled in a desk drawer.

He interviews management to understand how tightly they run the facility and line workers to understand how they do their jobs. Are they draining fluids the right way?

The consultation with compliance experts is collaborative, not confrontational, he said.

Noncompliant companies eventually get shut down and expose themselves to expensive engineering remedies. They also suffer reputational loss, which can be as crippling as the cost of corrective action.

“It’s cheaper to stay in compliance,” Brown said.

Bad Company

And it’s cheaper to do business with compliant recyclers. Under Superfund Section 107, said Bill McElroy, senior vice president at Liberty International Underwriters, the chain of liability extends from material producers, through transporters, waste brokers, recyclers, and the people who buy the recovered materials.

For example, 255 defendants — mostly upstream industrial producers — were named in United States vs. Chemetco Inc. et al., in which a now-bankrupt recycler of copper-bearing scrap and manufacturing residue pleaded guilty in 2001 to violating the Clean Water Act by secretly installing a pipe that illegally dumped metal-filled wastewater into a creek for a decade.

The plaintiffs were fined $3.8 million, and the property is now a Superfund site.

Not only do upstream producers have liability under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) for the misdeeds of the rare recycling “bad actor,” said Kim Ferraro, a senior staff attorney with the Hoosier Environmental Council, an Indiana environmental advocacy group, but so do responsible buyers of a site contaminated by previous owners.

Ferraro represented the plaintiffs in Adkins et al. vs. VIM Recycling, which couldn’t keep up with the volume of waste — engineered woods, plastics, steel, padding, drywall, etc. — from nearby recreational vehicle manufacturers in Elkhart, Ind.

The waste accumulated in 100-foot-high piles, Ferraro said, and rotted noxiously when exposed to the elements, sickening neighbors with its smell and dust emissions, and contaminating the groundwater.

When a spark ignited in a dirty grinder, the plant went up in flames, killing one worker and injuring another. VIM did not have the permits to do business legally, let alone pollution insurance, Ferraro said.

The RV producers whose waste VIM putatively recycled may have had liability under RCRA, which establishes responsibility for solid waste that creates endangerment. Ferraro considered naming them in the case, but finally did not.

The neighbors cheered when the court reached a default judgment against VIM, which failed to defend itself in court and went out of business.

The assets of the operation were purchased by Soil Solutions, which makes animal bedding and landscape mulch from recycled wood chips.

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Although it obtained the proper permits and set up a responsible shop, said its attorney, Ed Sullivan, a partner with the international law firm of Faegre Baker Daniels, the company found itself hobbled by the hostility of the community, as well as lingering problems from VIM’s many failures to satisfy state standards.

Soil Solutions was added as a defendant to an existing class-action lawsuit claiming the operations were a nuisance and health hazard. As part of an out-of-court settlement, it agreed to process and remove many of VIM’s contaminants.

The settlement halts the litigation, and allows Soil Solutions to operate on the site for up to five years.

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Ken Cornell, executive vice president, chief environmental lines underwriter, Aspen Insurance

Lessons learned? Beyond complying with regulations, Ferraro said, it’s important to have cordial relations with the community. Legitimately listen and address the concerns of neighbors.

And second, she said, don’t buy a business that is being sued.

Sullivan agreed on the importance of good community relations. “My client tried to do that,” he said, “but the plaintiffs decided early that Soil Solutions was just like VIM.”

Any kind of environmental operation that creates odor, such as composting yard and waste processing, creates third-party liability and is fertile ground for plaintiffs’ attorneys — even if the operator does everything correctly and has all its permits, said Ken Cornell, executive vice president, chief environmental lines underwriter with Aspen Insurance

Plaintiffs’ attorneys may comb through regulatory databases and inspections for violations, even administrative errors such as posting the right notice in the right place.

“Good relations with your neighbors, and make darn sure your record is clean,” he advised. “Have a methodology for dealing with complaints up-front before the neighbors get attorneys.”

Susannah Levine writes about health care, education and technology. She can be reached at riskletters@lrp.com.
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Sponsored: Liberty International Underwriters

From Coast to Coast

Planning the Left Coast Lifter's complex voyage demands a specialized team of professionals.
By: | January 7, 2015 • 5 min read

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The 3,920-ton Left Coast Lifter, originally built by Fluor Construction to help build the new Bay Bridge in San Francisco, will be integral in rebuilding the Tappan Zee Bridge by 2018.

The Lifter and the Statue of Liberty

When he got the news, Scot Burford could see it as clearly as if somebody handed him an 8 by 11 color photograph.

On January 30,  the Left Coast Lifter, a massive crane originally built by Fluor Construction to help build the new Bay Bridge in San Francisco, steamed past the Statue of Liberty. Excited observers, who saw the crane entering New York Harbor, dubbed it the “The Hudson River Hoister,” honoring its new role in rebuilding the Tappan Zee Bridge over the Hudson River.

Powered by two stout-hearted tug boats, the Lauren Foss and the Iver Foss, it took more than five weeks for the huge crane to complete the 6,000 mile ocean journey from San Francisco to New York via the Panama Canal.

Scot took a deep breath and reflected on all the work needed to plan every aspect of the crane’s complicated journey.

A risk engineer at Liberty International Underwriters (LIU), Burford worked with a specialized team of marine insurance and risk management professionals which included John Phillips, LIU’s Hull Product Line Leader, Sean Dollahon, an LIU Marine underwriter, and Rick Falcinelli, LIU’s Marine Risk Engineering Manager, to complete a detailed analysis of the crane’s proposed route. Based on a multitude of factors, the LIU team confirmed the safety of the route, produced clear guidelines for the tug captains that included weather restrictions, predetermined ports of refuge in the case of bad weather as well as specifying the ballast conditions and rigging of tow gear on the tugs.

Of equal importance, the deep expertise and extensive experience of the LIU team ensured that the most knowledgeable local surveyors and tugboat captains with the best safety records were selected for the project. After all, the most careful of plans will only be as effective as the people who execute them.

The tremendous size of the Left Coast Lifter presented some unique challenges in preparing for its voyage.

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The original intention was to dry tow the crane by loading and securing it on a semi-submersible vessel. However, the lack of an American-flagged vessel that could accommodate the Left Coast Lifter created many logistical complexities and it was decided that the crane would be towed on its own barge.

At first, the LIU team was concerned since the barge was not intended for ocean travel and therefore lacked towing skegs and other structural components typically found on oceangoing barges.

But a detailed review of the plan with the client and contractors gave the LIU team confidence. In this instance, the sheer weight and size of the crane provided sufficient stability, and with the addition of a second tug on the barge’s stern, the LIU team, with its knowledge of barges and tugs, was confident the configuration was seaworthy and the barge would travel in a straight line. The team approved the plan and the crane began its successful voyage.

As impressive as the crane and its voyage were, it was just one piece in hundreds that needed to be underwritten and put in place for the Tappan Zee Bridge project to come off.

Time-Sensitive Quote

SponsoredContent_LIUThe rebuilding of the Tappan Zee Bridge, due to be completed in 2018, is the largest bridge construction project in the modern history of New York. The bridge is 3.1 miles long and will cost more than $3 billion to construct. The twin-span, cable-stayed bridge will be anchored to four mid-river towers.

When veteran contractors American Bridge, Fluor Corp., Granite Construction Northeast and Traylor Bros. formed a joint venture and won the contract to rebuild the Tappan Zee, one of the first things the consortium needed to do was find an insurance partner with the right coverages and technical expertise.

The Marsh broker, Ali Rizvi, Senior Vice President, working with the consortium, was well known to the LIU underwriting and engineering teams. In addition, Burford and the broker had worked on many projects in the past and had a strong relationship. These existing relationships were vital in facilitating efficient communication and data gathering, particularly given the scope and complexity of a project like the Tappan Zee.

And the scope of the project was indeed immense – more than 200 vessels, coming from all over the United States, would be moving construction equipment up the Hudson River.

An integrated team of LIU underwriters and risk engineers (including Burford, Phillips, Dollahon and Falcinelli) got to work evaluating the risk and the proper controls that the project required. Given the global scope of the project, the team’s ability to tap into their tight-knit global network of fellow LIU marine underwriters and engineers with deep industry relationships and expertise was invaluable.

In addition to the large number of vessels, the underwriting process was further complicated by many aspects of the project still being finalized.

“Because the consortium had just won this account, they were still working on contracts and contractors to finalize the deal and were unsure as to where most of the equipment and materials would be coming from,” Burford said.

Despite the massive size of the project and large number of stakeholders, LIU quickly turned around a quote involving three lines of marine coverage, Marine Liability, Project Cargo and Marine Hull & Machinery.

How could LIU produce such a complicated quote in a short period of time? It comes down to integrating risk engineers into the underwriting process, possessing deep industry experience on a global scale and having strong relationships that facilitate communication and trust.

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Photo Credit: New York State Thruway Authority

When completed in 2018, the Tappan Zee will be eight lanes, with four emergency pullover lanes. Commuters sailing across it in their sedans and SUVs might appreciate the view of the Hudson, but they might never grasp the complexity of insuring three marine lines, covering the movements of hundreds of marine vessels carrying very expensive cargo.

Not to mention ferrying a 3,920-ton crane from coast to coast without a hitch.

But that’s what insurance does, in its quiet profundity.

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This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Liberty International Underwriters. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.




LIU is part of the Global Specialty Division of Liberty Mutual Insurance.
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