tar sands

Sat, 2014-06-14 12:35Guest
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Why Are Pipeline Spills Good For the Economy?

oil spill

This is a guest post by David Suzuki.

Energy giant Kinder Morgan was recently called insensitive for pointing out that “Pipeline spills can have both positive and negative effects on local and regional economies, both in the short- and long-term.” The company wants to triple its shipping capacity from the Alberta tar sands to Burnaby, in part by twinning its current pipeline. Its National Energy Board submission states, “Spill response and cleanup creates business and employment opportunities for affected communities, regions, and cleanup service providers.”

It may seem insensitive, but it’s true. And that’s the problem. Destroying the environment is bad for the planet and all the life it supports, including us. But it’s often good for business. The 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico added billions to the U.S. gross domestic product! Even if a spill never occurred (a big “if”, considering the records of Kinder Morgan and other pipeline companies), increasing capacity from 300,000 to 890,000 barrels a day would go hand-in-hand with rapid tar sands expansion and more wasteful, destructive burning of fossil fuels — as would approval of Enbridge Northern Gateway and other pipeline projects, as well as increased oil shipments by rail.

Thu, 2014-06-05 10:55Steve Horn
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Navy SEAL Commander Behind Bin Laden Killing: Keystone XL Vulnerable To Terrorism

Dave Cooper, Command Master Chief SEAL (Retired) for the Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU), has authored a threat assessment concluding TransCanada's Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is potentially at-risk of a terrorism attack. 

In the report, Cooper concluded operational security vulnerabilities for the pipeline have been overlooked by the U.S. government. Cooper —  most famous for overseeing the Abbottabad, Pakistan Osama Bin Laden raid as the commander of Navy SEAL Team Six — wrote the report as a consultant for billionaire Tom Steyer's advocacy group NextGen Climate Action

“The very nature of Keystone XL’s newsworthiness, should it ever be built, increases its attractiveness as a target to terrorists: Keystone XL, aside from being a 'soft' target just like any other pipeline, has a built-in emotional impact that can’t be denied or wished away,” he wrote in the report's introduction.

“That simple fact, a newsworthy proposal that engenders strong passions, should clue in pipeline owners and government officials to the very real possibility of intentional attack.”

For the report, Cooper utilized a “red cell” methodology, parlance for U.S. special operations forces performing pre-mission reconnaissance, using open source data readily available to terrorists on the internet. In so doing, the special operations forces snuff out operational security (“OpSec” in military lingo) weaknesses, which they use as actionable intelligence in defense missions.

In the report, Cooper explained he “designed [the methodology this way] to showcase weaknesses in the current reality by exploiting the same information to which an outside terrorist group would have access.”

Cooper's probe included a due diligence trip out three redacted Great Plains locations*, where Phase I of the Keystone Pipeline System is currently operational (the northern leg of Keystone XL is Phase IV). Going out into the field, Cooper came away shocked by his discoveries.

His findings raise a troubling question: have real Keystone XL terrorism threats been ignored, while non-violent activists have been labeled potential eco-terrorists? Cooper offered his take on this question to DeSmogBlog.

Wed, 2014-06-04 05:00Don Lieber
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European Activists Protest First Major Tar Sands Shipment from Canada, Threaten Escalating Actions

Protests erupted in Spain last week at the site of the first major delivery of tar sands crude imported from Canada via the United States.  

According to a news report by EurActiv.com, an online news service focused on EU affairs, 600,000 barrels of Western Canada Select (WCS) crude were due to arrive at the port of Bilbao, Spain, imported by the Spanish oil company Repsol. According to MarineTraffic.com data on the tanker's location, it appears the delivery at Bilbao occurred on 29-30 May.

The Spanish oil giant is using this delivery as ‘a test’ to determine if future bulk deliveries are feasible.   

On 29 May, about 50 protesters staged a demonstration outside Repsol's Bilbao refinery, after rumours spread that the dirty fuel shipment had already arrived.  

The protesters, including local residents and environmentalists from all over Europe, have vowed to increase the scope and organization of the protests if shipments continue.  

Thu, 2014-05-08 08:10Carol Linnitt
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New Report Names Alberta Oilsands as Highest Cost, Highest Risk Investment in Oil Sector

A total of $1.1 trillion USD earmarked for risky carbon-intensive oil sector investments need to be challenged by investors, according to a new report released today by the Carbon Tracker Initiative.

The research identifies oil reserves in the Arctic, oilsands and in deepwater deposits at the high end of the carbon/capital cost curve. Projects in this category “make neither economic nor climate sense” and won’t fit into a carbon-constrained world looking to limit oil-related emissions, Carbon Tracker states in a press release.

The report highlights the high risk of Alberta oilsands investment, noting the reserves “remain the prime candidate for avoiding high cost projects” due to the region’s landlocked position and limited access to market.

The isolated nature of the [oilsands] market with uncertainty over export routes and cost inflation brings risk.”

Mon, 2014-05-05 10:33Steve Horn
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For First Time, TransCanada Says Tar Sands Flowing to Gulf in Keystone XL South

TransCanada admitted for the first time that tar sands oil is now flowing through Keystone XL's southern leg, now rebranded the Gulf Coast Pipeline Project. The company confirmed the pipeline activity in its 2014 quarter one earnings call.

Asked by Argus Media reporter Iris Kuo how much of the current 300,000 to 400,000 barrels per day* of oil flowing from the Cushing, Oklahoma to Port Arthur, Texas pipeline is tar sands (“heavy crude,” in industry lingo), TransCanada CEO Russ Girling confirmed what many had already suspected.

“I don’t have that exact mix, but it does have the ability to take the domestic lights as well as any heavies that find a way down to the Cushing market, so it is a combination of the heavies and the lights,” said Girling. “I just don’t know what the percentage is.”

The Keystone Pipeline System — of which Keystone XL's northern leg is phase four of four phases — is and always has been slated to carry Alberta's tar sands to targeted markets. So the announcement is far from a shocker.


Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

More perplexing is why it took so long for the company to tell the public that tar sands oil now flows through the half of the pipeline approved via a March 2012 Executive Order by President Barack Obama

Wed, 2014-04-30 21:55Steve Horn
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Explosive Virginia Train Carried Fracked Bakken Oil, Headed to Potential Export Facility

Platts confirmed CSX Corporation's train that exploded in Lynchburg, Virginia was carrying sweet crude obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in North Dakota's Bakken Shale basin. CSX CEO Michael Ward has also confirmed this to Bloomberg.

“Trade sources said the train was carrying Bakken crude from North Dakota and was headed to Plains All American's terminal in Yorktown,” Platts explained. “The Yorktown facility can unload 130,000 b/d of crude and is located on the site of Plains oil product terminal.”

In January, the U.S. Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration issued a Safety Alert concluding Bakken crude is more flammable than heavier oils. Hence the term “bomb trains.”

At least 50,000 gallons of the oil headed to Yorktown is now missing, according to ABC 13 in Lynchburg. Some of it has spilled into the James River, as previously reported on DeSmogBlog.

A map available on CSX's website displaying the routes for its crude-by-rail trains offers a clear indication of where the train was headed.


Map Credit: CSX Corporation

Formerly a refinery owned by Standard Oil and then BP/Amoco, Plains All American has turned the Yorktown refinery into a mega holding facility. 

Yorktown may become a key future site for crude oil exports if the ban on exports of oil produced domestically in the U.S. is lifted. 

Tue, 2014-04-29 13:14Steve Horn
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TransCanada Charitable Fund Launches Keystone XL "Good Neighbor" Charm Offensive

TransCanada has taken a page out of former U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's playbook and deployed a public relations “charm offensive” in Texas, home of the southern leg of its Keystone XL tar sands pipeline now known as the Gulf Coast Pipeline Project.

In the 1930s and 1940s, Roosevelt utilized a “good neighbor policy“ — conceptualized today as “soft power” by U.S. foreign policy practitioners — to curry favor in Latin America and win over its public. Recently, TransCanada announced it would do something similar in Texas with its newly formed TransCanada Charitable Fund.

TransCanada has pledged $125,000 to 18 Texas counties over the next four years, funds it channeled through the East Texas Communities Foundation. In February, the company announced the first non-profit recipients of its initial $50,000 grant cycle.  

“The fund is designed to help improve East Texas communities and the lives of their residents through grants to qualifying non-profit organizations in the counties where TransCanada pipeline operations and projects exist,” explained a press release. “All funded projects and programs fall within three charitable categories: community, safety, and the environment.”

TransCanada utilizes the “good neighbor” language in deploying its own public relations pitch.

“At TransCanada, being a good neighbor and contributing to communities is an integral part of our success,” TransCanada's Corey Goulet said in a press release. “The establishment of the fund is another example of our commitment to long-term community investment and our dedication to the people of East Texas.”

Mon, 2014-04-28 16:59Steve Horn
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Mayflower: Deadly Tornado Sweeps Through Arkansas Town That Endured ExxonMobil Tar Sands Pipeline Spill in 2013

On March 29, 2013, ExxonMobil's Pegasus tar sands pipeline ruptured in Mayflower, Arkansas, sending hundreds of thousands of gallons of diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) pouring down the town's streets.

Now, just over a year after the massive spill, devastation has come to Mayflower and neighboring towns again, this time in the form of a lethal tornado. On the evening of April 27, the twister destroyed huge pockets of the town of just over 2,300 citizens in a wholesale manner, with 14 confirmed dead and likely many more still not counted.

“Sadly, we don't expect it to stay at 14,” tweeted Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe. At least 10 died in Faulkner County alone, which houses Mayflower, according to the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management.

The National Weather Service in Little Rock has given the tornado that hit Mayflower an EF-3 rating on a preliminary basis. EF3 (the highest rating is an EF5) equates to 136–165 mile per hour winds and KATV weatherman Todd Yakoubian tweeted that National Weather Service will have its final rating in by April 30.

Table Credit: Wikimedia Commons

On the whole, Arkansas Geographic Information Office has reported that 3,200 addresses in Faulkner County have had various levels of impact.

Thu, 2014-04-24 13:21Raphael Lopoukhine
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Alberta Ramps Up “Responsible Energy Development” Sales Pitch in Wake of New Keystone XL Delay

Alberta oilsands tar sands julia kilpatrick

Days after another delay by the Obama administration on TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline, members of the Alberta government are hitting the U.S. circuit to promote the oilsands and boost their “green” credentials.

Three government officials are heading to key regions in the U.S. to push for continued market access and advertise what Albertan energy minister Diana McQueen calls “our commitment to clean energy development.”

Alberta hopes to showcase investment in carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology as part of a successful emissions reduction plan.

Critics say the Alberta government’s talk about “sustainability” and “clean energy” is not in line with reality.

If you’ve been following the Canadian government’s sales pitch for the Keystone XL pipeline, you’ve probably heard this claim before: ‘Emissions per barrel have been reduced by 26 per cent between 1990 and 2011,’” writes P.J. Partington, senior federal policy analyst with the Pembina Institute.

However, the reality, Partington writes, is that “since 1990, oilsands production has quintupled, while GHG emissions from production and upgrading have quadrupled.”

Wed, 2014-04-23 17:40Stephen Leahy
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Critics Concerned Pipelines, Tankers Reason for Downgrading "Threatened" Status of Humpback Whales

humpback whale mike baird

This week the federal government was legally obligated to establish protected habitat for threatened North Pacific humpback whales. Instead the Harper government suddenly moved to take the humpback off the “threatened species” list. That would eliminate the legal requirement under Canada’s Species At Risk Act for protecting habitat along the British Columbia coast.

The government based the downgrade on a recommendation made by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), the independent scientific body that designates which wildlife species are in trouble, in 2011.

Critics have noted the decision eliminates a major obstacle to both the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline and the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. After the conditional approval of the Northern Gateway pipeline by the National Energy Board's joint review panel, the University of Victoria Environmental Law Centre launched a legal complaint on behalf of B.C. Nature requesting the government's recovery strategy for humpback whales be taken into consideration.

A federal recovery strategy for humpback whales on the B.C. coast released in October cited potential increased oil tanker traffic as a danger to dwindling populations. The recovery strategy, released after a five-year delay, also noted the danger toxic spills posed to critical habitat.

If built, the two pipeline projects would increase oil tanker traffic from eight to 28 per month, increasing the risks of collisions with whales, potential spills in vital habitat and excessive noise.

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