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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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State Dept Keystone XL Environmental Reviewer Claimed Delaware Tar Sands Refinery Made Air Cleaner

8:07 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

DeSmogBlog investigation reveals Environmental Resources Management, Inc. (ERM Group), the contractor that performed the environmental review for TransCanada’s Keystone XL tar sands export pipeline, was also recently hired by a major Delaware City refinery to study air quality around the plant.

This “study” was funded by the refinery itself, owned by Delaware City Refining Company, a wholly-owned subsidiary of PBF Energy. Delaware City Refinery is the recipient of 180,000 barrels per day of fracked oil from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale along with oil extracted from Alberta’s tar sands - both referred to as the “holy grail” by the Refinery’s owner at a Feb. 2013 meeting - which sojourn eastward via mile-long freight rail cars owned by Norfolk Southern.

Conducted in March 2013, the study concluded the “air quality [near the refinery] is as good as, and in some cases, better than samples taken during the 2011 study before the refinery restart,” as explained on a flyer obtained by DeSmog promoting two public meetings hosted by ERM to discuss results.

However, an independent air sample study detected the cancer-causing compound benzene far above levels set by the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as soot and sulfur dioxide, in an area one mile from the refinery.

ERM Group – a dues-paying member of American Petroleum Institute (API), which hasspent over $22 million lobbying on tar sands and Keystone XL since its June 2008 proposal – said that because Alberta’s tar sands will get to market with or without Keystone XL, the tube’s northern half “is unlikely to have a substantial impact on the rate of [tar sands] development.”

Under that logic, Keystone XL – which President Obama said in in the Climate Action Plan he will only approve if it doesn’t “significantly exacerbate…carbon pollution” – won’t have a “substantial impact” on climate change. That could mean “game on” for the pipeline.

Yet Another Illegal ERM Group Lie

This latest discovery proves – once again – that ERM Group lied on its conflict-of-interest form which it submitted to the State Department, claiming it has no ”direct or indirect relationship (financial, organizational, contractual or otherwise) with any business entity that could be affected in any way by the proposed work.”

The false claim – given ERM’s current ties to the Alaska Gas Pipeline Project, the Delaware City Refinery and the refinery’s direct relationship with tar sands refining and marketing - may violate 18 USC § 1001. That law says making a “materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation…[to the] executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the Government of the United States” is a crime punishable by up to five years in jail.

Friends of the Earth and the Checks & Balances Project have called for a full-throttle State Department Inspector General investigation into the contractual relationship between ERM Group and the State Department.

The false contractual claim is far from the only tall tale ERM told.

Independent Air Studies, Citizen Anecdotes Fly in Face of ERM Study

study released by Delaware City Environmental Coalition in late-May - just weeks before ERM’s study was released – came to diametrically opposite conclusions as ERM Group’s refinery-funded effort.

“Air-quality tests commissioned by a Delaware City citizens group show a jump in local chemical, soot and sulfur levels after the opening of the Delaware City refinery, with at least three toxic pollutants exceeding some public health limits in one spot a mile from the plant,” explained The News Journal.

Beyond the study itself, many individuals have anecdotes of how the refinery has impacted their lives and how quality of life was better before the plant reopened in 2011, when PBF Energy purchased the refinery from Valero for $220 million after it was idled for one year.

“I can tell you that the year the plant was shuttered, I did not suffer from my normal seasonal sinus condition in the same manner that I have both before and after,” Delaware City citizen Kristina Lynn told DeSmogBlog in an interview.

“While it is a seasonal allergy that causes my pain, it was nearly absent that year. The town was quiet, no smells, even the sky looked bluer. No rumblings, it was so quiet at night I could hear a horse neigh on a farm a half mile away. I had never heard that before.”

Another Delaware City citizen shared a similar story.

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