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Keystone XL Pipeline Would Increase Oil Prices in Midwest

Twitter is ablaze with the news that the State Department will announce today that the original TransCanada presidential permit application is dead in the water. Details are murky, so stay tuned for more, but what this likely means is that the State Department will allow TransCanada to re-apply for the permit with a new route that avoids the heart of Nebraska's Ogallalla Aquifer.

While it's good to see that President Obama is standing up to oil industry bullying and Republican pressure to fast-track the permit, this still means Keystone XL is very much in play. If it's ever built, Keystone XL will allow the expansion of the Alberta tar sands that climate scientists worry will send us down a dangerous path of global warming pollution. 

What's more, the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, if built, would increase oil prices in the American Midwest. That’s the shocking takeaway point from a bombshell report about Keystone XL as an export pipeline released today by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Oil Change International.

We’ve reported time and time again here on DeSmogBlog, the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would not improve America’s energy security, but never has that reality been more clearly conveyed than by this one real-world point that is worth repeating. The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would increase oil prices in the Midwest.

To understand how, exactly, an increased supply of oil to America could increase oil prices domestically, you have to understand two things about the Keystone XL pipeline.

First, Keystone XL is is an export pipeline, funneling foreign crude through American soil to Gulf refineries that will profit most by processing the low-grade tar sands crude into diesel to sell to the booming international market.

Bechtel Whistleblower Warns Against Keystone XL; Witnessed Shoddy Work on TransCanada’s Keystone I

Back in August, DeSmogBlog’s own Emma Pullman co-produced a startling infographic about how the first section of TransCanada’s Keystone pipeline system was “Built to Spill,” with a dozen spills recorded in the pipeline’s first year of operation.

According to a must-read bombshell Op-Ed in the Lincoln Journal Star, these spills came as no big surprise to the workers closest to the project. The piece, published on New Years Eve by a former Bechtel engineer who worked on that original stretch of pipeline, tells the story of gross safety negligence and lax oversight in constuction of that first Keystone line, and warns against letting TransCanada again bring that threat to American soil.

Mike Klink was an inspector for the project, and claims he was fired by the company after repeatedly raising concerns about the substandard materials and poor construction of the pipeline. Klink warns that the company's missteps and shortcuts that already resulted in 12 spills in one year should serve as fair warning against TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline: New Report Spotlights Incredible Threats

In the wake of the State Department’s announcement to delay the Keystone XL decision, another proposed tar sands pipeline is coming under closer scrutiny. The Northern Gateway Pipeline, proposed by Canada’s Enbridge Energy, would stretch nearly 750 miles across Alberta and British Columbia before reaching an inland port. (DeSmogBlog has been following the Northern Gateway Pipeline story in detail.)

A report released today by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Pembina Institute, and the Living Oceans Society documents the enormous risk – environmental, economic, and social – to communities and regions along the pipeline and tanker paths, specifically to valuable salmon-bearing rivers and coastal ecosystems, including the habitat of the endangered Spirit Bear. 

The impacts anticipated by the “Pipeline and Tanker Trouble” report include:

  • Compromising the lifestyles of First Nations who depend on the region’s lands and waters for their livelihoods, culture, and health.
  • Threatening the economic well-being of thecommunities of British Columbia that depend on fisheries and forests.
  • Potential devastation from a major oil spill from the pipeline or an oil supertanker, which could destroy economically important salmon habitat, as well as the habitat of Spirit Bears and grizzlies, and whales, orcas, and other marine life that depend on these rich coastal waters.
  • Harm from an oil spill to the Great Bear Rainforest thatthe province and First Nations have worked hard toprotect from unsustainable forestry practices and to shift to a conservation-based economy.

Senate Hearing Confirms Natural Gas Export Plans Will Raise Prices For Americans

Considering the rate at which natural gas resources are being developed, and the sudden push from industry to export the product, it might come as a surprise that the Senate’s Energy Committee hadn’t had a hearing on liquified natural gas (LNG) since 2005.

Last Tuesday, for the first time in six years, Senators brought the issue back to the Capitol spotlight, as they considered the impact of exporting LNG on domestic prices.

In order to export or import natural gas, companies can either transport it through pipelines, or ship it as liquefied natural gas (LNG). LNG is natural gas cooled to -260 degrees Fahrenheit, at which point the gas becomes a liquid. Back in 2006, LNG imports far outstripped exports, and industry used that trade deficit to push for a massive expansion of domestic drilling, relying heavily on the argument for American “energy security.”

Now that that expansion is well-underway, with the infamous Utica and Marcellus shales the frontier of rapid development, utilizing controversial fracking and horizontal drilling techniques, the industry is eager to start exporting LNG to international markets where the fuel fetches a much heftier price.

Breaking: State Department Delays Keystone XL Decision Until 2013

The State Department announced today that they would “seek additional information” about the Keystone XL pipeline, meaning that they will take another 12 months at least to re-review the proposed pipeline route. This new review will build on (or make up) for the woefully-incompletely Environmental Impact Statement.

Here's the State Department's official language:


…given the concentration of concerns regarding the environmental sensitivities of the current proposed route through the Sand Hills area of Nebraska, the Department has determined it needs to undertake an in-depth assessment of potential alternative routes in Nebraska. …
Among the relevant issues that would be considered are environmental concerns (including climate change), energy security, economic impacts, and foreign policy.

The decision comes in the immediate wake of a massive protest at the White House on Sunday, as roughly 12,000 anti-pipeline activists circled the White House in a “solidarity hug.” The action was the latest in a series of protests and events staged by opponents of the proposed TransCanada pipeline that would funnel tar sands crude from Canada down to the Gulf Coast in Texas, much of it bound for export to other nations.

The decision to delay is a clear testament to the power of public engagement in the political process and good old-fashioned protest. But the battle isn't over yet.

Valero Positioning To Export Tar Sands Oil, Guarding Pot of Gold at End of Keystone XL Pipeline

In the heated Keystone XL debate, the Canadian company TransCanada, which is attempting to build the line, and the Koch brothers, who are throwing their considerable weight behind it in the interest of their Koch Industries’ subsidiaries, receive a lot of attention.
 

But there are other benefactors that are worth a closer look, as nobody stands to benefit as much in the longer term (if the Keystone XL pipeline is ever built) as the companies that operate the refineries on the Gulf Coast.

Let’s step back and review what the refineries actually do. The diluted tar sands bitumen (or “DilBit”) that would flow through Keystone XL is an ultra-acidic, highly viscous mess, that doesn’t at all resemble the refined petroleum products like diesel or gasoline or even jet fuel that are sold on the commercial markets. DilBit is, in the words of Keith Schneider, ”thick as peanut butter and more acidic, highly corrosive, and abrasive” than typical crude.

This tar sands DilBit needs to be refined before it can be sold. But only certain refineries are capable of handling the corrosive DilBit.

Refiners along the Texas Gulf Coast, where the Keystone XL pipeline would ultimately deliver tar sands DilBit from Canada, are eager to accomodate. The company that appears positioned to receive and refine more of TransCanada’s crude than anyone else is the Valero Energy Corporation (NYSE: VLO).

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