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State Department Inspector General Investigating Keystone XL Contractor ERM’s Conflicts of Interest

2:31 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

The Checks and Balances Project has announced that the U.S. State Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) has launched a conflicts-of-interest investigation into dirty dealings pertaining to the contractor tasked to perform the environmental review for the northern half ofTransCanada’s Keystone XL tar sandspipeline on behalf of State.

Environmental Resources Management, Inc. (ERM Group) declared the northern portion of Keystone XL as environmentally safe and sound on behalf of State in March, in defiance of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s assessment, among others.

The northern half of Keystone XL will connect to the over 75-percent complete southern half and – if built – will carry Alberta’s tar sands bitumen south to Texas refineries, with most of the final product shipped to the highest bidder on the global market. State and eventually President Barack Obama have the final say over the proposal because the northern section of pipeline crosses the international border.

The overarching problem with that ERM assessment, as first revealed on Grist by Brad Johnson: ERM Group was chosen not by the State Dept., but by TransCanada itself. Furthermore, as first revealed on Mother Jones by Andy Kroll, the State Dept. redacted biographical portions of the EIS that pointed to ERM’s ongoing close consulting relationship with ERM Group and TransCanada.

“The American public was supposed to get an honest look at the impacts of the Keystone XL pipeline,” writes Checks and Balances‘ Gabe Elsner. ”Instead…a fossil fuel contractor, hid its ties from the State Department so they could green light the project on behalf of its oil company clients.”

Instead of an honest look, the public got deception, perhaps not surprisingly given ERM’s historical contracting relationship with Big Tobacco, as first revealed here onDeSmogBlog. ERM seems to have blatantly lied to the State Dept. – which apparently did no homework of its own, or turned a blind eye at least – and answered “no” to when questioned if it had done business with anyone tied to TransCanada in the past three years.

ERM also told State it was not an energy interest, when the facts say otherwise.

“The State Department question defines an energy interest in part as any company or person engaged in research related to energy development,” wrote Eslner. “Yet, ERM has worked for all of the top five oil companies and dozens of other fossil fuel companies. In other words, ERM is clearly an energy interest.”

For these reasons, a dozen groups (including DeSmogBlog), ranging from environmental NGOs, faith-based groups and government accountability watchdogs called for the Inspector General to investigate why State allowed TransCanada to choose ERM Group.

OIG Special Agent Pedro Colon, Checks and Balances reported, confirmed OIG is “reviewing the matter” in a voicemail left with Elsner. Not satisfied with Colon’s oblique answer, Elsner followed up with OIG via email to ask for more details.

In a May 14 email, Elsner was told the following by Erich Hart, General Counsel to the Inspector General, that Hart can’t comment on an ongoing investigation – implying, of course, that an investigation is happening.

It is this email that led Checks and Balances to believe that OIG is engaged in a serious, methodical probe into ERM Group’s activities related to the Keystone XL SEIS environmental review. The group questions why the State Department didn’t recognize a serious conflict-of-interest in choosing ERM.

The question still remains: will it be a serious investigation or a public relations window dressing act? Time will tell.

ERM Group’s Sordid History

ERM Group has a sordid history of green-lighting ecologically perilous projects. Perhaps not surprising given that it is a dues-paying member of Big Oil’s lobbying powerhouse, the American Petroleum Institute (API), which spent $7.3 million on lobbying in 2012 and another $8.6 million on lobbying in 2011.

As covered here on DeSmogBlog, ERM declared the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline that traverses from Azerbaijan, to Georgia and eventually to Turkey as environmentally and ecologically sound – even though it has proven neither. As also covered here, ERM said the Peru LNG and accompanying pipeline project was also environmentally and ecologically sound - again, even though it has proven neither.

So, unless OIG acts on the investigation it says it has opened and tells State to abide by federal contracting conflicts-of-interest law, it appears Keystone XL will be déjà vu all over again for ERM Group and the Obama Administration.

State Department’s Keystone XL Contractor ERM Green-Lighted BP’s Explosive Caspian Pipeline

9:09 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

The more things change, the more they stay the same. 

Map of BTC Pipeline

The BTC Pipeline, called the "New Silk Road" but also a "Time Bomb," reveals many potential flaws of the KXL Pipeline.

Almost 11 years ago in June 2002, Environmental Resources Management (ERM) Group declared the controversial 1,300 mile-long Baku–Tbilisi–Ceyhan (BTC) Pipeline environmentally and socio-economically sound, a tube which brings oil and gas produced in the Caspian Sea to the export market.

On March 1, it said the same of the proposed 1,179 mile-long TransCanada Keystone XL (KXL) Pipeline on behalf of an Obama State Department that has the final say on whether the northern segment of the KXL pipeline becomes a reality. KXL would carry diluted bitumen or “dilbit” from the Alberta tar sands down to Port Arthur, Texas, after which it will be exported to the global market

ERM Group, a recent DeSmogBlog investigation revealed, has historical ties to Big Tobacco and its clients include ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips and Koch IndustriesMother Jones also revealed that ERM – the firm the State Dept. allowed TransCanada to choose on its behalf - has a key personnel tie to TransCanada.

Unexamined thus far in the KXL scandal is ERM’s past green-light report on the BTC Pipeline – hailed as the “Contract of the Century” – which has yet to be put into proper perspective.

ERM is a key player in what PLATFORM London describes as the “Carbon Web,” shorthand for “the network of relationships between oil and gas companies and the government departments, regulators, cultural institutions, banks and other institutions that surround them.”

In the short time it has been on-line, the geostrategically important BTC pipeline - coined the “New Silk Road” by The Financial Times - has proven environmentally volatile. A full review of the costs and consequences of ERM’s penchant for rubber-stamping troubling oil and gas infrastructure is in order.

Massive Pipeline, Massive Hype: Sound Familiar?

Like the Keystone XL, the BTC Pipeline – owned by a consortium of 11 oil and gas corporations, including BP, State Oil Company of Azerbaijan (SOCAR), Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Eni and Total – was controversial and inspired a bout of activism in the attempt to defeat its construction.

Referred to as “BP’s Time Bomb” by CorpWatch, the BTC Pipeline was first proposed in 1992, began construction in May 2003 and opened for business two years later in May 2005. BTC carries oil and gas from the Azeri-Chirag-Gunashli (ACG) Caspian Sea oil field, co-owned by Chevron, SOCAR, ExxonMobil, Devon Energy and others, which contains 5.4 billion recoverable barrels of oil.

Paralleling the prospective 36-inch diameter Keystone XL that would carry 830,000 barrels per day of tar sands bitumen through the U.S. heartland, the BTC serves as a 42-inch diameter export pipeline and moves 1 million barrels of oil per day to market.

Like today’s KXL proposal – which would only create 35 full-time jobs – the false promise of thousands of jobs also served as the dominant discourse for BTC Pipeline proponents. The reality, like KXL, was more dim. The Christian Science Monitor pointed out in 2005 that only 100 people were hired full-time in Georgia, the second destination for BTC.

“People were told that there would be 70,000 Georgians that were going to be employed because of this pipeline,” Ed Johnson, BP’s former project manager in Georgia told the St. Petersburg Times in 2005. “The (Georgian) government needed to sell the project to its own people so some of the benefits were overblown.”

Massive Ecological Costs and Consequences

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Keystone XL Scandal: Obama State Dept. Hid Contractor’s TransCanada Ties

3:15 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

No KXL sign in front of cops

Protester at Valero HQ in DC. Activists committed acts of civil disobedience at the White House and other Tar Sands-related sites on March 21, 2013.

Mother Jones has a breaking investigation out on another scandal pertaining to the Obama State Department’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline.

The skinny: the firm that DeSmogBlog revealed has historical ties to Big Tobacco and currently has a client list that includes Koch Industries, ConocoPhillips and BP, Environmental Resources Management (ERM) Group, also has a direct connection to TransCanada itself. ERM Group -DeSmog revealed - also rubber-stamped the controversial and environmentally hazardous Baku–Tbilisi–Ceyhan (BTC) Pipeline in 2003, which carries oil and gas produced in the Caspian Sea in Baku, Azerbaijan to Tbilisi, Georgia and eventually makes its way to Ceyhan, Turkey.

Andy Kroll summed it up, writing,

ERM’s second-in-command on the Keystone report, Andrew Bielakowski, had worked on three previous pipeline projects for TransCanada over seven years as an outside consultant. He also consulted on projects for ExxonMobil, BP, and ConocoPhillips, three of the Big Five oil companies that could benefit from the Keystone XL project and increased extraction of heavy crude oil taken from the Canadian tar sands.

Embarassed by this act of blatant corruption, the State Department redacted the “biographies” portion of its EIS, an overt attempted cover-up. Mother Jones  tracked down a non-redacted version, revealing the ties that bind the study to the corporation the EIS is technically supposed to stand independent of.

Bielakowski’s ties, coming full circle, are a logical next step in the story.

Brad Johnson, writing for Grist, revealed that the State Department actually allowed TransCanada to hire a contractor on its behalf. TransCanda, of course, went to a go-to-guy who can “deliver the goods.”

“Delivering the goods,” of course, has little to do with delivering good science and is yet another act of deploying the Tobacco Playbook: make a one-sided scientific debate a farcical two-sided one.

Last time around the block, the State Department pulled the same trick, contracting the EIS out to Cardno Entrix, a contractor which lists TransCanada as one of its clients. Flying in the face of reality, a State Department Inspector General report concluded there was no evidence of conflict of interest or bias in the State Department’s review.

The Keystone XL will carry tar sands crude – also known as diluted bitumen or “dilbit” – from the Alberta tar sands project down to refineries in Port Arthur, TX. From there, it will be shipped to the global market. The export pipeline facts on the ground fly in the face of Big Oil’s often-deployed “gaining energy independence” charm offensive.

A final decision by President Obama and Sec. of State John Kerry is expected on the Keystone XL Pipeline in the next few months.

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