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Keystone XL Review Extended, Delaying Final Decision Until After 2014 Elections

1:04 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

TransCanada’s northern leg of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will not be decided on until after the 2014 mid-term elections.

Reuters and Politico broke a major story today that TransCanada‘s northern leg of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will not be decided on until after the 2014 mid-term elections.

“The U.S. State Department will…extend the government comment period on the Keystone XL pipeline, likely postponing a final decision on the controversial project until after the November 4 midterm elections,” Reuters explained.

Secretary of State John Kerry and President Barack Obama have final say over whether the pipeline will be built because it crosses the U.S.-Canada border.

Reporters learned of the decision after a call between high-level congressional staff and State Department officials.

“The justification is the need to wait on continued litigation over a Nebraska court decision earlier this year, which threw part of the project’s route in doubt, two sources said today after a call between the State Department and congressional staff,” reported Politico.

In the end, the decision came down to politics, according to Politico, though there are no shortage of climate change and ecological concerns for the prospective pipeline.

“A delay past November would spare Obama a politically difficult decision on whether to approve the pipeline, angering his green base and environmentally minded campaign donors — or reject it, endangering pro-pipeline Democrats,” they reported.

Proponents and Opponents Respond

Twitter has been abuzz since rumors of the announcement started swirling and many prominent individuals with a stake in the fight have already chimed in.

“Keystone XL delay further proof that State Department has bungled this process and has no business overseeing environmental reviews,” tweeted Friends of the Earth Senior Campaigner Ross Hammond.

Bill McKibben — whose organization 350.org led the civil disobedience Tar Sands Action in summer 2011 that put the Keystone XL and tar sands on the map for many — also responded.

It’s as if our leaders simply don’t understand that climate change is happening in real time–that it would require strong, fast action to do anything about it. While we’re at it, the State Department should also request that physics delay heat-trapping operations for a while, and that the El Nino scheduled for later this spring be pushed back to after the midterms. One point is clear: without a broad and brave movement, DC would have permitted this dumb pipeline in 2011. So on we go.

Elijah Zarlin, CREDO’s senior campaign manager, said: “It is deeply disappointing that Secretary Kerry and President Obama can’t yet muster the courage to stand up to the oil industry and reject Keystone XL. Still, this is yet another defeat for TransCanada, tar sands developers like the Koch Brothers, and oil-soaked politicians. No doubt, the nearly 100,000 people who have pledged to risk arrest to stop Keystone XL played a key role in pushing the administration to more accurately consider the full impact of this project – which must clearly result in rejection. No delays will diminish our commitment to stopping Keystone XL.”

On the other side, Fox News referred to the decision as a “Friday News Dump” and the Koch Brothers-funded American Energy Alliance (AEA) tweeted, “Most had never even heard of @justinbieber back when @TransCanada applied for #KeystoneXL permits,” alluding to the fact Keystone XL has now been up for debate for five years.

Industry-funded Energy in Depth spokesman Steve Everly echoed AEA.

“It took the U.S. less than 4 years to win two theaters in World War II,” stated Everly. “It’s been five years and we can’t approve a metal pipe.”

One thing’s for certain: the prospective pipeline will likely become a major politico “hot potato” in the months leading up to the November 2014 elections. Read the rest of this entry →

ANR Pipeline: Introducing TransCanada’s Keystone XL for Fracking

2:14 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog   

When most environmentalists and folks who follow pipeline markets think of TransCanada, they think of the proposed northern half of its Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

Flying beneath the public radar, though, is another TransCanada-proposed pipeline with a similar function as Keystone XL. But rather than for carrying tar sands bitumen to the Gulf Coast, this pipeline would bring to market shale gas obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”).

Meet TransCanada’s ANR Pipeline System.

Although not actually a new pipeline system, TransCanada wants ANR retooled to serve domestic and export markets for gas fracked from the Marcellus Shale basin and the Utica Shale basin via its Southeast Main Line.

“The [current Southeast Main Line] moves gas from south Louisiana (including offshore) to Michigan where it has a strong market presence,” explains a March 27 article appearing in industry publication RBN EnergyBecause of the immense amount of shale gas being produced in the Marcellus and Utica, TransCanada seeks a flow reversal in the Southeast Main Line of itsANR Pipeline System. 

TransCanada spokeswoman Gretchen Krueger told DeSmogBlog that ANR’s flow reversal is a “more efficient use of the system based on market demand.”

TransCanada has already drawn significant interest from customers in the open seasons and negotiations held to date, so much so it expects to begin the flow reversal in 2015.

“ANR Pipeline system has secured almost 2.0 billion cubic feet a day (Bcf/d) of firm natural gas transportation commitments on its Southeast Main Line (SEML) at maximum rates for an average term of 23 years,” reads a March 31 TransCanada press release. ”ANR secured contracts on available capacity on the [South East Mainline] to move Utica and Marcellus shale gas to points north and south on the system.”

Like Keystone XL, an Export Pipeline

Like Keystone XL, ANR’s flow reversal will serve — among other things — the global export market.

“This project will…allow more natural gas to move south to the Gulf Coast, where markets are experiencing a resurgence of natural gas demand for industrial use, as well as significant new demand related to natural gas exports from recently approved liquefaction terminals,” TransCanada CEO Russ Girling said in his company’s March 31 press release.

ANR will continue to be an attractive transportation option due to its strategic foot print, interconnections, on-system storage and access to high demand markets.

With the debate over liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports heating up in the U.S.,ANR has arrived on scene right in the knick of time for the oil and gas industry.

Other Keystone XL: Cove Point or Sabine Pass?

Some recent media coverage of the prospective Dominion Cove Point LNG export facility located in Lusby, Maryland has drawn comparisons to the Keystone XLdebate because both involve key pipeline systems, with accompanying plans to export product globally and the Obama Administration has final say over approval (or disapproval) of the pipeline.

Yet, while Cove Point awaits final approval from the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), Cheniere’s Sabine Pass LNG export facility wasapproved by FERC in April 2012 and opens for business in late 2015.

Enter TransCanada into the mix with ANR and it’s the perfect storm: a KeystoneXL pipeline for fracking run by the same company that owns Keystone XL.

Creole Trail: ANR’s Connection to Sabine Pass

ANR feeds into the same Gulf Coast export and refinery markets Keystone XL is set to feed into (and the same ones its already-existing southern half, the Gulf Coast Pipeline Project feeds into).

Port Arthur, Texas — the end point for Keystone XL — is a mere 20 minute drive away from Sabine Pass, Louisiana.

That’s where Cheniere’s Creole Trail Pipeline comes into play, a 94-mile pipeline completed in 2008. Cheniere proposed an expansion project in September 2013 to FERC for Creole Trail, which FERC is still currently reviewing.

If granted the permit by FERC, the expansion would allow Creole Trail to connect to TransCanada’s ANR pipeline at the Mamou Compressor Station located in Evangeline Parish, Louisiana. 

Mamou Compressor Station already received an expedited air permit in October 2013 from the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).

Exports Gone Wild, Climate Disruption Gone Wild

Read the rest of this entry →

Follow the Money: Three Energy Export Congressional Hearings, Climate Undiscussed

9:33 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

A joint meeting of the US Congress

Congress keeps talking, but not about climate change.

In light of ongoing geopolitical tensions in Russia, Ukraine and hotly contested Crimea, three (yes, three!) U.S.Congressional Committees held hearings this week on the U.S. using its newfangled oil and gas bounty as a blunt tool to fend off Russian dominance of the global gas market.

Though 14 combined witnesses testified in front of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy and Power and U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, not a single environmental voice received an invitation. Climate change and environmental concerns were only voiced by two witnesses.

Using the ongoing regional tumult as a rationale to discuss exports of U.S. oil and gas obtained mainly via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), the lack of discussion on climate change doesn’t mean the issue isn’t important to national security types.

Indeed, the Pentagon’s recently published Quadrennial Defense Review coins climate change a “threat force multiplier” that could lead to resource scarcity and resource wars. Though directly related to rampant resource extraction and global oil and gas marketing, with fracking’s accompanying climate change and ecological impacts, “threat force multiplication” impacts of climate change went undiscussed.

With another LNG (liquefied natural gas) export terminal approved by the U.S.Department of Energy (DOE) in Coos Bay, Ore., to non-Free Trade Agreement countries on March 24 (the seventh so far, with two dozen still pending), the heat is on to export U.S. fracked oil and gas to the global market.

So, why wasn’t the LNG climate trump card discussed in a loud and clear way? Well, just consider the source: ten of the witnesses had ties in one way or another to the oil and gas industry.

Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources

Headed by recently named chair U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), the March 25 U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing featured four of five witnesses with industry ties, all of which went undisclosed. It was titled, “Importing Energy, Exporting Jobs. Can it be Reversed?”

“The last thing Putin and his cronies wants (sic) is competition from the United States of America in the energy race,” Landrieu declared in her opening statement. “Tyrants and dictators throughout history have had many reasons to fear revolutions, and this U.S. energy revolution is one they should all keep their eyes on!” More on that later.

Given the enthusiasim conveyed in her statement, perhaps it’s unsurprising Landrieu — whose state of Louisiana is an oil and gas industry hub like few others — also has close industry ties.

Up for re-election in 2014, Landrieu has already taken close to half a million dollars from the industry to the chagrin of environmentalistsCommittee Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) has taken $40,600 during this campaign cycle, as well, even though she isn’t up for re-election until 2016.

Daniel Adamson, senior counsel for the committee, worked as a lobbyist fornatural gas utility company Avista Corporation from 2004-2010.

And now for the witnesses:

Adam Sieminski: Before taking the seat as head of the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) in 2012, Sieminski worked in the fossil fuel finance sector.

“From 2005 until March 2012, he was the chief energy economist for Deutsche Bank, working with the bank’s global research and trading units,” explains his EIAbiography. “From 1998 to 2005, he served as the director and energy strategist for Deutsche Bank’s global oil and gas equity team.”

- W. David Montgomery: Testifying at both this committee hearing and the U.S.House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy and Power hearing, Montgomery is the senior vice president of NERA (National Economic Research Associates) Economic Consulting.

NERA penned a study on behalf of the DOE published in December 2012concluding LNG exports will be economically beneficial to the U.S. It recently published an updated follow-up study funded by Cheniere — the first company to receive a permit to export fracked U.S. gas in Sabine Pass, La., in 2012 — concluding “unlimited LNG exports benefit U.S.

Author of a 2009 paper titled, “Organized Hypocrisy as a Tool of Climate Diplomacy,” commissioned by the fossil fuel funded American Enterprise Institute, Montgomery is not a climate change denier. He just doesn’t think anything should be done to tackle climate change.

“Trying to bribe or coerce unwilling countries into curtailing their GHG emissions threatens to cause more harm than good,” he wrote in the American Enterprise Institute paper.

Montgomery sang a similar tune during a March 2011 U.S. House Committee on Science, Space and Technology hearing:

Read the rest of this entry →

Gen. James Jones Didn’t Disclose Industry Ties Before Testimony at KXL Hearing

12:40 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing today (March 13) on the U.S. State Department’s national interest determination for the northern half of the proposed TransCanada Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

Four witnesses will testify: Keystone XL proponent Karen Alderman Harbert, the president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy; retired NASA climatologist James Hansen, an adjunct professor at Columbia University’s Earth Institute and Keystone XL opponent; and Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune, another critic of the Keystone XL.

And then there’s James Jones. He’s set to testify on behalf of the pipeline, with his affiliation listed as President of Jones Group International. He won’t be testifying at the request of the committee’s Democrats, but rather its Republicans, even though he formerly served as national security adviser to President Barack Obama.

Described as offering ”high level advisory and consulting services in the areas of international energy policy,” Jones Group — which doesn’t list its clients — is far from Jones’ only career gig.

DeSmogBlog investigation has revealed Jones has several oil and gas industry ties that weren’t disclosed to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee before the hearing.

Among other ties, BuzzFeed recently revealed Jones currently serves as a consultant for the American Petroleum Institute (API), which has spent over $22 million lobbying on behalf of Keystone XL since 2008. Environmental Resources Management, Inc. (ERM Group) — the contractor chosen by the State Department to conduct the environmental review for the pipeline — is an API member.

Friends of the Earth made a public call to Jones to reveal his client list ahead of his Senate testimony.

“Our representatives in Congress have a right to learn all of the pertinent facts about the Keystone XL pipeline unfiltered by corporate special interests,” reads the letter. “Disclosing all relevant payments from interests advocating for or against the pipeline will help our representatives decide how to balance the competing information they are sure to receive.”

Below are some of Jones’ clients, revealed by a DeSmogBlog investigation.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Chevron

Prior to joining President Obama’s  team as national security adviser in 2008, Jones served as the President and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy, a position he held since March 2007.

According to a January 2014 U.S. Chamber conference call, Jones met Chamber CEO Tom Donohue at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in February 2007. That’s where the two first talked about the idea of creating the institute.

During his time heading the institute, Jones earned $900,000. Jones also simultaneously served on Chevron’s Board of Directors from May - December 2008, earning $290,000.

After serving as President Obama’s national security advisor for just under two years — stepping down in October 2010 from what Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman called “Chevron in the White House“ — Jones picked up where he left off and became a U.S. Chamber of Commerce Fellow, a position he still holds today.

Jones is now intricately involved in the Chamber’s “Energy Works for U.S.” campaign launched in January 2014. The campaign’s policy platform includes endorsement of the Alberta tar sands expansion and Keystone XL as a vehicle through which to bring tar sands to market.

Some of the Chamber Board of Directors‘ members are oil and gas company executives, including representatives of ConocoPhillips and Phillips 66. The New York Times revealed Chevron is a Chamber member in an October 2010 article.

Chevron gave Senate Foreign Relations Committee members $25,000 for the 2012 elections.

Atlantic Council

While sitting as CEO and President of the Institute for 21st Century Energy, Jonesconcurrently served as Chairman of the Atlantic Council from 2007-2009, a position he held until becoming President Obama’s National Security Adviser. He now sits as the Founding Chairman of the Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security.

The Council has a domestic oil and gas industry corporate membership list that includes Chevron, General Electric, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and a foreign oil and gas industry corporate membership list including BP, Eni, Shell, Setgaz, Trans Adriatic Pipeline, Oil Terminal SA, Nabucco and Transgaz, among others.

Van Scoyoc Associates

Jones also serves an adviser for the powerful lobbying firm Van Scoyoc Associates, a position he was named to in July 2011. National Journal explained Jones will provide Van Scoyoc with “advice relating to client-service improvements, market trends, and strategic planning.”

Read the rest of this entry →

Keystone XL’s Northern Leg: A Fracked Oil Pipeline Along With Tar Sands

3:45 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Bakken Flaring Gas at Night

On January 31, President Barack Obama’s U.S. State Department released its Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the northern leg of TransCanada‘s proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

The State Department’s FEIS argues that the northern half of Keystone XL, if built, “remains unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands, or the continued demand for heavy crude oil at refineries in the United States.”

But flying under the media’s radar so far, the State Department review also highlights the prospect that Keystone XL will not only carry tar sands, but also be tapped to carry up to 100,000 barrels per day of oil extracted via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale basin.

“[Keystone XL] would have the capacity to deliver up to 830,000 bpd, of which 730,000 bpd of capacity has been set aside for [tar sands] and the remaining 100,000 bpd of capacity set aside for [Bakken] crude oil,” the report details.

[TransCanada] has represented that it has firm commitments to transport approximately 555,000 bpd of [tar sands], as well as 65,000 bpd of crude oil from the Bakken.

A smaller proposed project owned by TransCanada called the Bakken MarketLink pipeline and incorporated as Keystone Marketlink LLC in February 2011, would ship the fracked oil to Keystone XL’s northern leg as an “on ramp.”

“This project would include a 5-mile pipeline, pumps, meters, and storage tanks to supply Bakken crude oil to the proposed pipeline,” explains the FEIS.

For Bakken Fracked Oil, ‘No’ on KXL Means Rail

Many doubt that rail could ever replace pipeline as a viable marketing mechanism for Alberta’s tar sands. But few could argue the fact that rail reigns supreme for bringing Bakken fracked oil to market.

“Last November, rail shipped 71 percent — nearly 800,000 barrels of oil a day — of the Bakken’s oil, much of it on lines across Minnesota and Wisconsin, while pipelines shipped just 22 percent, according to estimates from the North Dakota Pipeline Authority,” explains the Duluth News Tribune.

The State Department FEIS suggests that if Keystone XL were never completed, the oil industry will instead ship the Bakken crude via rail. Both Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) are mentioned by name as the potential corporate beneficiaries.

“One new rail loading terminal would be needed in Epping [in ND] to ship Bakken crude oil,” reads the FEIS. “Sufficient off-loading rail facilities currently exist or are proposed in the Gulf Coast area such that no new terminals would need to be built under this scenario.”

On December 30, 2013, a BNSF freight rail train carrying Bakken fracked oil exploded in Casselton, NDspilling over 400,000 gallons of oil. In July 2013, 47 people were killed in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec by another “bomb train” carrying Bakken crude.

Officially classified as more volatile and explosive than conventional oil by the U.S. government and some state governments, some activists have labeled freight trains carrying Bakken oil “Bomb Trains.” There were more gallons of oil spilled via rail cars carrying crude in 2013 than in the previous four decades combined.

Protests Occur in Over 200 Cities

In response to the release of the FEIS, Credo Mobile, Rainforest Action Network, Sierra Club, 350.org, The Other 98%, Center for Biological Diversity, Oil Change International, Friends of the Earth and other groups mobilized on Monday. 280 vigils took place across the country on February 3, kicking off the 30-day public comment period on the FEIS and 90-day period allotted for a response to the FEIS by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Interior.

“This issue has already brought more Americans into the streets than any environmental issue in decades, and now finally we’re at the point of decision,” Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, said at the New York City rally.

“It’s out of the hands of the bought-off bureaucrats who’ve been delaying it in the State Department for years and doing the bidding of the fossil fuel industry. Now we’re going to find out whether John Kerry and Barack Obama are similarly captives of the oil industry or whether they’re willing to really stand up when it counts for the commitments they’ve made about climate change.”

In setting up the protests, many may have thought they were protesting tar sands extraction and marketing in exclusivity.

Yet, when push comes to shove, the fight against Keystone XL’s northern leg is actually a fight against both tar sands extraction and fracking — and of course, runaway climate change. Read the rest of this entry →

Super Bowl Friday Trash Dump: State Dept Releases KXL Final Environmental Review

4:16 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Protest at Whitehouse. Sign: Stop the Keystone Pipeline Project

Feds release a final report on Keystone XL’s safety when no one’s looking.

The State Department has released the Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for the proposed northern leg of the controversial and long-embattled TransCanada Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

In a familiar “Friday trash dump” — a move many expected the Obama administration to shun — John Kerry’s State Department chose to “carefully stage-manage the report’s release” on Super Bowl Friday when most Americans are switching focus to football instead of political scandals.

Anticipating the report’s release, insiders who had been briefed on the review told Bloomberg News the SEIS — not a formal decision by the State Department on the permitting of the pipeline, but rather another step in the department’s information gathering — “will probably disappoint environmental groups and opponents of the Keystone pipeline.”

And, indeed, the new report reads:

Approval or denial of any one crude oil transport project, including the proposed Project, remains unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands, or the continued demand for heavy crude oil at refineries in the United States.

This reiterates one of the earlier draft’s most heavily criticized conclusions that the pipeline is “unlikely to have a substantial impact on the rate of development in the oil sands,” and thus avoids a comprehensive assessment of those climate impacts.

In June 2013, President Obama said in a speech announcing his Climate Action Plan at Georgetown University that he would only approve the permit if it was proven that “this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”

The final environmental review is being released on the heels of damning revelations about the close ties between the Canadian pipeline builder, TransCanada and Environmental Resources Management (ERM). ERM was hired by the State Department to conduct the environmental review.

According to documents obtained by the Sierra Club via Freedom of Information Act requests, TransCanada actually recommended ERM to conduct the study, and claimed, falsely, that the two companies had not worked together before.

Friends of the Earth president Erich Pica did not mince words in his reaction to the State Department’s new report, telling the National Journal, ”The State Department’s environmental review of the Keystone XL pipeline is a farce. Since the beginning of the assessment, the oil industry has had a direct pipeline into the agency.”

ERM Group: A History Tied to API

Over the past two years, DeSmogBlog has published a number of articles documenting controversial projects — in Peru, the Caspian SeaDelaware and Alaska – that the ERM Group has approved. In each case the projects have been permitted and have eventually resulted in spills or severe environmental damage.

ERM Group is a dues-paying member of the American Petroleum Institute, which has spent over $22 million lobbying on behalf of Keystone XL.

Timing of the Release

The Final SEIS also precedes a heavily anticipated State Department Inspector General’s report addressing these potential conflicts-of-interest between TransCanada, ERM and the State Department, as has been covered here on DeSmogBlog. It also occurs on a Friday afternoon before the Super Bowl, with attention of much of the American public diverted.

Environmental groups and opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline were surprised by the timing and suddenness of the report’s release. The surprise was not shared by supporters of the pipeline.

For days, industry reps have been claiming that the SEIS would be released this week. The loudest voice was that of Jack Gerard, chief executive of the American Petroleum Institute (API), who speaking to Reuters last week said, “It’s our expectation it will be released next week,” citing sources within the administration.

ERM Group is a dues-paying member of API. Of this clear conflict and the timing of the release, Steve Kretzmann of Oil Change International wrote:

Jack Gerard was apparently briefed by ‘sources within the Administration’ on the timing and content of the report. Before the environmental community. Before Congress. Before anyone else.

If that doesn’t prove once and for all what a corrupt process this has been, I don’t know what will. The oil industry, which has had this process rigged since the word go, are the first to know, because of their cozy and corrupt role in this process.

Green Groups Respond

Jim Murphy of National Wildlife Federation asked this of the decision before the State Department:
Read the rest of this entry →

State Dept’s Keystone XL Contractor, ERM Group, Also OK’d Controversial Pebble Mine in Alaska

2:22 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

ERM has always been able to turn a blind eye to serious environmental impacts.

DeSmogBlog investigation has revealed Environmental Resources Management Inc. (ERM Group) — the contractor performing the U.S. State Department’s environmental review for the northern half of TransCanada’s Keystone XL tar sands pipeline — gave the greenlight to Alaska’s controversial Pebble Mine proposal in June 2013.

The proposed Pebble Mine, located in Bristol Bay in southwest Alaska, contains mineable gold and copper. It’s also a major hub for fishing and the seafood industry, leading the Center for American Progress to call the battle over Pebble Mine a “resource war.”

“Bristol Bay…is home to the world’s largest commercial sockeye salmon fishery,” explains a November 2013 EarthWorks blog post. ”The devastation caused by a massive open pit mine would linger in perpetuity affecting not just Bristol Bay, but the commercial fishing industry everywhere in the Pacific Northwest.”

Like the Pebble Mine review, ERM’s review for the northern half of the U.S.-Canada border-crossing Keystone XL pipeline concluded the pipeline would have negligible environmental impacts.

EPA Tackles Pebble Mine, Keystone XL

Another thread tying Keystone XL and Pebble Mine together: in both cases, ERM Group’s environmental assessment flew in the face of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) assessment. In April 2013, the EPA critiqued ERM Group’s Keystone XL environmental review, while the EPA published a damning environmental review of Pebble Mine on January 15.

“The report concludes that large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay watershed poses risks to salmon, wildlife, and Native American cultures,” explains an EPA fact sheet published summarizing the study. “Bristol Bay supports the largest sockeye salmon fishery in the world, producing nearly 50 percent of the world’s wild sockeye with runs averaging 37.5 million fish each year.”

ERM scolded the EPA for not taking a balanced approach on Pebble Mine, not looking into the “positive effects” it would create if it opens for business.

“[EPA did not take] into account the positive effects of cash income from employment on a community’s overall subsistence-gathering capabilities, as well as, harvest-sharing capabilities,” wrote ERM. “Overall, the Assessment lacks discussion of potential positive effects associated with industrial development.”

U.S. Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK) didn’t toe the ERM party line, though.

“Wrong mine, wrong place, too big,” Begich said in a January 19 interview with the Anchorage Daily News. “Too many potential long-term impacts to a fishery that is pretty critical to that area but also to Alaska, to world markets. I think it will harm the environment, harm the salmon, harm the jobs that are connected to the fisheries industry out there.”

“A Polluted Process”

As documented previously here on DeSmogBlog, ERM has also green-lighted other projects with ecologically unsavory track records. These have ranged from an explosive pipeline project in the Caspian Sea to a contentious LNG project in Peru to a toxic tar sands refinery in Delaware.

All of these projects were met with backlash from environmentalists, but eventually received the customary ERM rubber stamp.

Some members of the U.S. House of Representatives have called ERM’s Keystone XL northern half environmental review into question, though.

Led by U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), 24 House Democrats sent a letter to President Obama on December 12 saying he shouldn’t green light the northern half of the pipeline until the State Department’s Office of Inspector General finishes its probe into how ERM Group was chosen and why. It’s what Friends of the Earth has called a “a polluted process.”

“The Department of State apparently overlooked these conflicts when it accepted Environmental Resources Management’s (ERM) bid to perform the analysis,” reads the letter. “Because of the seriousness of the conflicts…we believe no EIS from the company – draft or final – should be accepted by the administration before these issues are resolved.”

One thing is clear as Secretary of State John Kerry and President Barack Obama head into decision-making time on Keystone XL’s northern half: ERM has always been able to turn a blind eye to serious environmental impacts. Now it’s up to Obama and Kerry to avoid falling into the same trap. Read the rest of this entry →

Days Before Oil Train Explosion, Obama Signed Bill Hastening Fracking Permits on ND Public Lands

6:57 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Obama

President Obama eases fracking regulations days before explosive crash.

On December 20, both chambers of the U.S. Congress passed a little-noticed bill to expedite permitting for hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) on public lands in the Bakken Shale basin, located predominantly in North Dakota. And on December 26, President Obama signed the bill into law.

Days later, on December 30, a Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) freight train owned by Warren Buffett carrying Bakken fracked oil exploded in Casselton, North Dakota. Locals breathed a smoky sigh of relief that the disaster happened outside the town center. In July 2013, a “bomb train” carrying Bakken oil exploded in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, killing 47 people.

Dubbed the “Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Streamlining Act,” the bill passed unanimously in the Senate as S.244 and 415-1 in the House as H.R. 767, with Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) serving as the sole “nay” vote and 16 representatives abstaining. Among the abstentions were representatives Peter Defazio (D-OR), Henry Waxman (D-CA) and John Campbell (R-CA).

H.R. 767′s sponsor is North Dakota Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer, who received $213,150 from the oil and gas industry prior to the 2012 election, and an additional $29,000 for the forthcoming 2014 elections.

Cosponsors include Wyoming Republican Rep. Cynthia Lummis ($109,050 from the oil and gas industry pre-2012 election, $28,500 in the 2014 election cycle), South Dakota Republican Rep. Kristi Noem ($95,501 from the industry pre-2012 election, $20,400 pre-2014) and Montana Republican Rep. Steve Daines ($124,620 pre-2012 election and $87,412 pre-2014).

S.244 is sponsored by Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND), who has taken $291,237 from the oil and gas industry since his 2010 election to Congress. Cosponsor Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) received $111,050 from the oil and gas industry since her 2012 electoral victory.

Sen. Hoeven visited BNSF’s Fort Worth, Texas, corporate headquarters on January 3 to meet with the company’s CEO, Matt Rose, “to get an update on the Casselton derailment and measures that can be taken to enhance railroad safety.”

“While it’s a blessing that no one was hurt in this accident, we must now work with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), industry and leaders on all levels to get to the root cause of this week’s derailment,” Hoeven said in a press statement, not mentioning the bill he sponsored will create additional oil-by-rail markets.

“We also need to rigorously review ways that shipping petroleum products by rail can be improved for safety.”

Energy Policy Act of 2005 Amendment

The BLM Streamlining Act passed into law by the Obama administration is actually an amendment to Section 365 of the Bush-era 2005 Energy Policy Act. It creates offices in North Dakota and Montana to rubber stamp fracking permits on public lands in those states.

Section 365 created a “Pilot Project to Improve Federal Permit Coordination” on public lands “to improve coordination of oil and gas permitting…as a means of meeting the Nation’s need for dependable, affordable, environmentally responsible energy,” explains the BLM website.

This compelled BLM to set up field offices to more efficiently fast track oil and gas drilling permits in Rawlins and Buffalo, Wyoming; Miles City, Montana; Farmington and Carlsbad, New Mexico; Grand Junction/Glenwood Springs, Colorado; and Vernal, Utah.

Left out of the original Section 365: North Dakota, the new darling of the U.S. domestic oil fracking scene. The BLM Streamlining Act ”[r]eplaces the Miles City, Montana field office with the Montana/Dakotas State Office,” creating an open season for fracking North Dakota’s public lands.

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 is perhaps most famous for the “Halliburton Loophole,” which exempted the fracking industry from the legal dictates of the Safe Drinking Water Act and other laws. The loophole also made the chemicals contained in “fracking fluid” a trade secret, meaning the industry doesn’t have to disclose the recipe of chemicals injected into the ground in fracking operations.

Obama Executive Order: Fast-Track Bakken Permits

In March 2012, President Obama issued Executive Order 13604, lending an explanation to his signing off on the BLM Streamlining Act.

Obama announced the Order while standing in front of the sections of pipe that would soon become the southern half of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline (now rebranded the “Gulf Coast Pipeline“) in Cushing, Oklahoma (the “pipeline crossroads of the world“) — a pipeline that will be fast-tracked by the Order.

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Dollarocracy: U.S. Congressmen Refuse to Address Keystone XL Southern Half Spill Concerns

2:00 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog  

What’s the U.S. congressional response to the safety issues with the 485-mile southern half of TransCanada‘s Keystone XL pipeline raised by Public Citizen‘s Texas office? Mostly what Simon & Garfunkel called “The Sound of Silence” in their famous song.

DeSmogBlog contacted more than three dozen members of the U.S. Congress representing both political parties to get their take on Public Citizen’s alarming findings in its November investigation (including dents, metal that had to be patched up and pipeline segments labeled “junk”), but got little in the way of substantive responses.

Set to open for business on January 22approved via an Executive Order by President Barack Obama in March 2012 and rebranded the “Gulf Coast Pipeline Project” by TransCanada, the southern half of the pipeline has garnered far less media coverage than its U.S.-Canada border-crossing brother to the north, Keystone XL‘s northern half.

Over two dozen members of the U.S. House of Representatives wrote a letter to President Obama on December 12 expressing concern over the conflicts-of-interest in the U.S. State Department’s environmental review process for the northern half of the line.

But none of them would comment on concerns with the southern half of the line raised in the Public Citizen report after multiple queries via e-mail from DeSmogBlog.

Two to Tango

Only two out the dozens contacted offered somewhat substantive comments.

And one of them, U.S. Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX) (Left), did not respond to the meat and bones of the question at hand. He did offer some oft-used industry talking points, though.

“The Keystone pipeline will create jobs and help reduce dependence on oil supplies from unfriendly nations,” Hall told DeSmogBlog. ”The State of Texas has a proven track record of successful oversight of the oil and gas industry, including pipelines, and I am confident that they will be diligent in ensuring the pipeline’s safety.”

Hall — who took $59,500 from the oil and gas industry before the 2012 elections and has already taken $12,500 for the upcoming 2014 elections — is far from a neutral stakeholder in the debate over anything pertaining to the petroleum industry.

“Since 2010, Hall has earned as much as $1 million from a company that holds mineral rights along the Barnett Shale,” explained a March 2013 Sunlight Foundation article. “The money was disclosed as dividends from a company called North & East Trading Co. (N&E).”

On the other side of the aisle, U.S. Rep. Gene Green (D-TX) (Right) also responded toDeSmogBlog‘s request for comment, offering more cautious words of support for the southern half of the pipeline’s commencement.

“Over the past decades, our interstate and intrastate pipeline systems have had remarkable safety records, unmatched by rail or highway modes of transportation,” Green stated. Read the rest of this entry →

Keystone XL Fork in the Road: TransCanada’s Houston Lateral Pipeline

1:49 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Houston Refinery at night

The southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline is scheduled to bring oil & tarsands to Houston’s refineries starting in January.

Only Barack Obama knows the fate of the northern half of TransCanada’s Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.  But in the meantime, TransCanada is preparing the southern half of the line to open forcommercial operations on January 22.

And there’s a fork in that half of the pipeline that’s largely flown under the radar: TransCanada’s Houston Lateral Pipeline, which serves as a literal fork in the road of the southern half of Keystone XL’s route to Gulf Coast refineries.

Rebranded the “Gulf Coast Pipeline” by TransCanada, the 485-mile southern halfof Keystone XL brings a blend of Alberta’s tar sands crude, along with oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale basin, to refineries in Port Arthur, Texas. This area has been coined a “sacrifice zone” by investigative journalist Ted Genoways, describing the impacts on local communities as the tar sands crude is refined mainly for export markets.

But not all tar sands and fracked oil roads lead to Port Arthur. That’s where the Houston Lateral comes into play. A pipeline oriented westward from Liberty County, TX rather than eastward to Port Arthur, Houston Lateral ushers crude oil to Houston’s refinery row.

“The 48-mile (77-kilometre) Houston Lateral Project is an additional project under development to transport oil to refineries in the Houston, TX marketplace,” TransCanada’s website explains. “Upon completion, the Gulf Coast Project and the Houston Lateral Project will become an integrated component of the Keystone Pipeline System.”

Boon for Houston’s Refinery Row

Houston’s LyondellBasell refinery is retooling itself for the looming feast of tar sands crude and fracked oil bounty that awaits from the Houston Lateral’s completion.

“The company is spending $50 million to nearly triple its capacity to run heavy Canadian crude at the Houston refinery, to 175,000 bpd from 60,000 bpd,”explained a March article in Reuters.

LyondellBasell admits TransCanada’s Houston Lateral project is a lifeline ensuring its Houston refinery remains a profitable asset.

“Over time, heavy Canadian oil is going to be extremely important to this refinery,” the company’s spokesman David Harpole said in a February interview with Bloomberg. “It’s not all getting down there today but as time goes on, that will become more and more powerful to an asset like we have.”

But LyondellBasell’s not the only company with skin in the game. Valero — whose refining capacity is currently overflowing with fracked Eagle Ford shale oil — is also considering expanding its capacity to refine more tar sands crude.

Not “What If,” But “Right Now”

A financially lucrative asset to refining companies like LyondellBasell and Valero, Houston’s refineries are an issue of life or death for those living within the vicinity.

“In a December 2010 report, the Sierra Club linked tar sands refinery emissions to prenatal brain damage, asthma and emphysema,” a March Huffington Post article explained. “A recent Houston-area study found a 56 percent increased risk of acute lymphocytic leukemia among children living within two miles of the Houston Ship Channel, compared with children living more than 10 miles from the channel.”

Like Port Arthur, Houston — the headquarters for some of the biggest oil and gas companies in the world — is a major “sacrifice zone” for front-line communities, with many people suffering health impacts from the city’s four petrochemical refineries.

“Much of the debate around the Keystone XL pipeline has focused on the dangers of extracting and transporting the tar sands,” DeSmogBlog contributor Caroline Selle wrote in a May 2013 article. “Left out, however, are those in the United States who are guaranteed to feel the impacts of increased tar sands usage. Spill or no spill, anyone living near a tar sands refinery will bear the burden of the refining process.”

With Keystone XL’s southern half currently being injected with oil and with TransCanada counting down the weeks until it opens for commercial operations, those living in front-line refinery neighborhoods face a daunting “survival of the fittest” task ahead.

“With toxic chemical exposure nearly certain, it is unclear what the next step will be for residents [living in refinery neighborhoods],” Selle wrote in her May article. “[T]his is a life or death struggle more immediate than the ‘what-if’ of a pipeline spill. And it’s not a ‘what-if, [but rather] the fight is ‘right now.’”

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