tar sands

Thu, 2014-10-16 15:30Guest
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Subsidy Spotlight: Paying the Price of Tar Sands Expansion

This is a guest post by Anna Simonton, on assignment with Oil Change International.

Carolyn Marsh was in her living room watching television on a Wednesday night in August when she heard a loud boom from somewhere outside. Having lived in the industrial town of Whiting, Indiana––just south of Chicago––for nearly three decades, she wasn’t terribly shaken. “There’s a lot of noise constantly,” she explains.

But when the news came on an hour later and reported an explosion at the nearby BP refinery, Marsh was incensed. It was the second serious incident since the recent completion of BP’s Whiting Refinery Modernization Project, which Marsh had fought to prevent.

In December 2013, after six years of community pushback, court battles, Environmental Protection Agency citations, and ongoing construction in spite of it all, BP’s $4.2 billion retrofitted facility came fully online.

Tue, 2014-10-14 13:35Steve Horn
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Tar Sands Trade: Kuwait Buys Stake in Alberta As It Opens Own Heavy Oil Spigot

Chevron made waves in the business world when it announced its October 6 sale of 30-percent of its holdings in the Alberta-based Duvernay Shale basin to Kuwait Foreign Petroleum Exploration Company (KUFPEC) for $1.5 billion.

It marked the first North American purchase for the Kuwaiti state-owned oil company and yields KUFPEC 330,000 acres of Duvernay shale gas. Company CEO and the country's Crown Prince, Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, called it an “anchor project” that could spawn Kuwait's expansion into North America at-large. 

Kuwait's investment in the Duvernay, at face-value buying into Canada's hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) revolution, was actually also an all-in bet on Alberta's tar sands. As explained in an October 7 article in Platts, the Duvernay serves as a key feedstock for condensate, a petroleum product made from gas used to dilute tar sands, allowing the product to move through pipelines. 

And while Kuwait — the small Gulf state sandwiched between Iraq and Saudi Arabia — has made a wager on Alberta's shale and tar sands, Big Oil may also soon make a big bet on Kuwait's homegrown tar sands resources.

“Kuwait has invited Britain’s BP, France’s Total, Royal Dutch Shell, ExxonMobil and Chevron, to bid for a so-called enhanced technical service agreement for the northern Ratqa heavy oilfield,” explained an October 2 article in Reuters. “It is the first time KOC will develop such a big heavy oil reservoir and the plan is to produce 60,000 bpd from Ratqa, which lies close to the Iraqi border [in northern Kuwait]…and then ramp it up to 120,000 bpd by 2025.”

In the past, Kuwait has said it hopes to learn how to extract tar sands from Alberta's petroleum engineers.

Tue, 2014-09-09 05:00Justin Mikulka
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Goldman Sachs Warns Investors About Tar Sands By Rail Challenges While Investing in Tar Sands By Rail

Oil by rail

In 2009, Matt Taibbi wrote a piece in Rolling Stone in which he described the investment bank Goldman Sachs as “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.” 

Apparently tar sands oil smells like money. And thus the vampire squid has found another target. As Reuters reported on August 29:

A Goldman Sachs-led rail terminal operator, USD Group LLC, announced on Friday plans to form a Master-Limited Partnership this year to trade publicly on the New York Stock Exchange.

This new company will be based around a tar sands rail loading facility in Hardisty, Alberta. That is the same place where the proposed Keystone XL pipeline would begin. USD Group already owns a crude-by-rail terminal in the town, with capacity to load two 120-car unit trains per day.

And with the success of this first phase of development, the company has announced plans to double the capacity of the terminal, which would allow it to load 280,000 barrels per day (bpd). The company has also announced plans to add another 70,000 bpd, which would bring its capacity to 350,000 bpd, or roughly half the proposed capacity of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline.

Fri, 2014-08-29 05:00Mike G
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Stealth Carbon Bombs Stopped In Their Tracks

North America is now the biggest producer of oil in the world thanks largely to Canada’s tar sands and North Dakota’s Bakken shale, and West Coast refineries are looking to cash in.

But not all crude is created equal, and oil companies hoping to import tar sands oil and Bakken crude — known as “cost-advantaged crude” in industry parlance — are deliberately disguising the true nature of upgrades they’re making to their facilities in California when seeking the necessary permits from regulatory agencies or speaking about the projects to the public.

“We’re seeing this all over the state,” says Yana Garcia, a staff attorney with Communities for a Better Environment.

CBE, which is one of several green groups calling out refineries that appear to be acting in bad faith, was notified by the South Coast Air Quality Management District last Friday that the permitting process for a Tesoro refinery in Wilmington, CA had been put on hold after the group filed numerous comments in opposition to the “negative declaration” the SCAQMD had made.

A “negative declaration” is essentially a rubber stamp ruling from the regulatory body, meaning it agreed with Tesoro that no significant impacts to the environment and human health were likely and the oil company could go ahead with its plans to build a new shipyard pipeline which, the company said, was only intended to speed up offloading of crude from ships to shore-based storage tanks.

In a press release, CBE explains:

There was no mention of the corrosive and explosive crude oils Tesoro plans to import, or its plans to combine its Wilmington refining operation with its newly acquired BP refinery in Carson; omitting major increases in greenhouse gases that result from tar sands crude oil refining, and other key impacts. Based on Tesoro’s omissions, the environmental document for the project incorrectly concluded that there was not even the potential for significant impacts.


At its best, it’s just business being business, they want to get these crudes out to the refineries and start profiting from them,” Yana Garcia says. “At its worst, that gaming of the system is essentially about lying to the public and letting these pretty nasty projects go through in predominantly low-income communities of color.”

Wed, 2014-08-27 13:10Steve Horn
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State Dept. Overseers of Contentious Enbridge Tar Sands Pipeline Workaround Have Industry, Torture Ties

The Sierra Club, National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and other green groups recently revealed that pipeline giant Enbridge got U.S. State Department permission in response to its request to construct a U.S.-Canada border-crossing tar sands pipeline without earning an obligatory Presidential Permit.

Enbridge originally applied to the Obama State Department to expand capacity of its Alberta Clipper (now Line 67) pipeline in November 2012, but decided to avoid a “Keystone XL, take two” — or a years-long permitting battle — by creating a complex alternative to move nearly the same amount of diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) across the border.

The move coincides with the upcoming opening for business of Enbridge's “Keystone XL” clone: the combination of the Alberta Clipper expansion (and now its alternative) on-ramp originating in Alberta and heading eventually to Flanagan, Ill., the Flanagan South pipeline running from Flanagan, Ill. to Cushing, Okla. and the Cushing, Okla. to Port Arthur, Texas Seaway Twin pipeline.

Together, the three pieces will do what TransCanada's Keystone XL hopes to do: move dilbit from Alberta's tar sands to Port Arthur's refinery row and, in part, the global export market.

Environmental groups have reacted with indignation to the State Department announcement published in the Federal Register on August 18. The public commenting period remains open until September 17.

Jim Murphy, senior counsel for NWF, referred to it as an “illegal scheme,” while a representative from 350.org says Enbridge has learned from the lessons of its corporate compatriot, TransCanada.

“When we blocked Keystone XL, the fossil fuel industry learned that they have a much stronger hand to play in back rooms than on the streets,” said Jason Kowalski, policy director for 350.org. “They will break the law and wreck our climate if that's what it takes for them to make a buck.”

But as the old adage goes, it takes two to tango. 

That is, influential State Department employees helped Enbridge find a way to smuggle an additional 350,000 barrels of tar sands per day across the border without public hearings or an environmental review. 

Thu, 2014-08-21 12:26Steve Horn
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After Oregon Rejects Coal Export Plan, Long Beach Votes to Export Coal and PetKoch

Just a day after the Oregon Department of State Lands shot down a proposal to export 8.8 million tons per year of coal to Asia from the Port of Morrow in Boardman, Oregon, the Long Beach City Council achieved the opposite.

In a 9-0 vote, the Council voted “yay” to export both coal and petroleum coke (petcoke, a tar sands by-product) to the global market — namely Asia — out of Pier G to the tune of 1.7 million tons per year. Some have decried petcoke as “dirtier than the dirtiest fuel.“ 

More specifically, the Council determined that doing an environmental impact statement before shipping the coal and petcoke abroad was not even necessary. 

decision originally made in June and then appealed by Earthjustice on behalf of the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Communities for a Better Environment, the Council shot down the appeal at an August 19 hearing

“We are very disappointed about the decision, but that does not diminish the amazing victory in Oregon,” Earthjustice attorney Adrian Martinez said in a statement provided to DeSmogBlog via email. “The decision in Long Beach just highlights the grasp that the fossil fuel industry has on the City's leaders.”

The Earthjustice legal challenge and the the subsequent August 19 hearing was not about banning coal or petcoke exports. Rather, Earthjustice and its clients requested that the City of Long Beach do an environmental impact statement for two companies given contracts to export the commodities for 15-20 years.

One of those companies, Oxbow Carbon, is owned by the “Other Koch Brother,” William “Bill” Koch. Like his brothers David and Charles Koch, he has made a fortune on the U.S. petcoke storage and export boom. Also like his brothers, he is a major donor to the Republican Party.

Thu, 2014-08-21 09:32Justin Mikulka
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All Aboard! Tar Sands Bitumen by Rail Set to Eclipse Pipelines Like Keystone XL

“Rail can get you just about anywhere. It's like the Harry Potter stairway. You get on the stairs at one end and they move to wherever you need to go. That's the beauty of the railway. You get on at one end here, with your bitumen or dilbit, and then you can end up in different places depending on what are the best markets.”

That quote is from Pete Sametz, president of Connacher Oil and Gas, speaking to the Daily Oil Bulletin about the appeal of moving tar sands oil by rail. And Sametz isn’t alone in his enthusiasm for rail transportation options for bitumen. 

At the Canadian Institute's North American Pipeline Symposium in June, Randy Meyer of Canadian National railway, told the conference how this situation appeared to him. 

“It's kind of amusing when I read in the paper that there's this angst and gnashing of teeth about Keystone and I'm going, 'My goodness, we're already there.' We can go there and we are. We are shipping product there.

The reality is that tar sands bitumen transport is so well-suited for rail over pipelines that it is now cheaper to move tar sands bitumen by rail than it is by pipeline. If you're a tar sands industry executive, this is your light-bulb moment: Who needs the Keystone XL headache when you can bypass the controversy entirely using existing rail lines? 

Aside from the magical Harry Potter flexibility of rail compared to pipelines, rail also offers the option of moving bitumen without having to dilute it, as is required for pipelines, which makes it cheaper as explained by Randy Meyer. 

“We did a study where we took the American Association of Railway's published rates, which averaged out all the traffic that moves and all its products. That average … is about 16 per cent less than pipeline costs.”

This reality and the recent revelations that the impact of the tar sands oil will be much greater than initially predicted, present a grim picture for the environment, although apparently an amusing and exciting one for oil and rail executives. Companies like Grizzly Oil Sands outline their plans on their website. 

Tue, 2014-08-19 15:40Steve Horn
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Court: Key Environmental Law Doesn't Apply to Part of Enbridge Keystone XL "Clone"

Keystone XL Clone Flanagan South

A U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has ruled that Enbridge’s 600-mile-long Flanagan South Pipeline, a Keystone XL “clone,” is legally cleared to proceed opening for business in October

Approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers via a controversial regulatory mechanism called Nationwide Permit 12 (NWP 12), Judge Kentanji Brown Jackson, an Obama-appointed judge, ruled NWP 12 was not a federal government “action.” Thus, Brown posited that Enbridge did not need to use the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulatory process and NWP 12 was up to snuff.

The case pitted the Sierra Club and the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) against the Army Corps of Engineers and Enbridge and has lasted for just over a year, with the initial complaint filed on August 13, 2013 (Case #: 1:13-cv-01239-KBJ). 

Sierra Club and NWF submitted the recent precedent-setting Delaware Riverkeeper v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) case as supplemental authority for Sierra Club v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on the day that decision was handed down. 

But Jackson brushed it aside, saying it doesn't apply to Flanagan South, despite the fact that the Delaware Riverkeeper v. FERC decision said that a continuous pipeline project cannot be segmented into multiple parts to avoid a comprehensive NEPA review.

Although Enbridge will operate this project as a single pipeline, Flanagan South was broken up into thousands of “single and complete” projects by the Army Corps of Engineers. This helped Enbridge skirt the requirement of a more comprehensive and public-facing NEPA review, which involves public hearings and a public comment period.

“Here, not only was there no NEPA analysis of this massive project, there was never any public notice or opportunity for involvement before it was constructed across four states,” Sierra Club attorney for the case, Doug Hayes, told DeSmogBlog. “The entire thing was permitted behind closed doors.”

For all intents and purposes, then, Flanagan South is a fait accompli and tar sands diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) will begin pumping through it as summer turns to fall. 

Sun, 2014-08-17 13:50Carol Linnitt
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The Oilsands Cancer Story Part 3: The Spotlight Turns on Fort Chip Doctor

Fort Chipewyan Cemetery. Fort Chip, located downstream of the oilsands, has higher than average cancer rates.

This is the third installment in a three-part series on Dr. John O'Connor, the family physician to first identify higher-than-average cancer rates and rare forms of cancer in communities downstream of the Alberta oilsands.

Part 3: The Spotlight Turns On Fort Chip Doctor

After the story of Fort Chip’s health problems broke, Health Canada sent physicians out to the small, northern community.

Dr. John O’Connor said one of the Health Canada doctors went into the local nursing station and, in front of a reporter, filled a mug with Fort Chip water and drank from it, saying, ‘See, there’s nothing wrong with it.’

That was such a kick in the face for everyone,” O’Connor said. “Just a complete dismissal of their concerns.”

Health Canada eventually requested the charts of the patients who had died. Six weeks later they announced the findings of a report that concluded cancer rates were no higher in Fort Chip than expected.

For O’Connor, however, the numbers “just didn’t match up.”

Fri, 2014-08-15 17:30Steve Horn
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Investor Call: Enbridge's Keystone XL Clone Opens in October, Rail Facility to Follow

In a recent quarter two call for investors, Enbridge Inc executives said the company's “Keystone XL” clone — the combination of the Flanagan South and Seaway Twin pipelines — will open for business by October.

As previously reported by DeSmogBlog, Enbridge has committed a “silent coup” of sorts, ushering in its own Alberta to Port Arthur, Texas pipeline system “clone” of TransCanada's Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Unlike Keystone XL's northern leg, however, Enbridge has done so with little debate. 

With the combination of the Alberta Clipper (now called Line 67, currently up for expansion), Flanagan South and Seaway Twin pipelines, Enbridge will soon do what TransCanada has done via its Keystone Pipeline System.

That is, bring Alberta's tar sands to Gulf of Mexico refineries and send it off to the global export market.

According to Guy Jarvis, president of liquids pipelines for Enbridge, even though the Cushing, Oklahoma to Port Arthur, Texas Seaway Twin is technically operational, it will not become functional until Flanagan South opens in October. 

“The base plan had been, and still is, to do the line fill of the Seaway Twin from Flanagan South. So we don't expect to see too much off the Seaway Twin until Flanagan South does go into service,” Jarvis said on the investor call.

“It does have the capability to be line filled at Cushing if the barrels are available and the market signals would suggest that you would want to do that. But at this point in time, we think it will be the base plan that it is filled on from Flanagan South.”

Beyond piping diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) to market, Enbridge also has plans to market dilbit via rail in a big way.

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