tar sands

Fri, 2013-08-23 14:22Brendan DeMelle
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Keystone XL Decision Delayed Again? Inspector General Pushes Report on ERM Scandals to January

Did the Obama administration's decision on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline just get delayed again? Quite possibly, since the State Department Inspector General announced today that it has delayed until January the release of its review of the scandals surrounding Environmental Resources Management, Inc., the contractor chosen by TransCanada to perform State's Keystone XL environmental review. 

Although the State Department was evasive about whether the IG's announcement signals a delay in the administration's decision, it would seem odd for President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to decide on the fate of the KXL export pipeline without waiting for the results of this critical report.  

Bloomberg News and The Hill broke the news about the delay, and all signs point to the fact that State's “inquiry” has morphed into a thorough conflicts-of-interest investigation into ERM's financial ties to TransCanada and other scandals. 

Ever since the March 2013 release of the State Department's environmental impact statement, critics have pointed to ERM Group's historical ties to Big Tobacco, its green-lighting of controversial projects in Peru and the Caspian Sea, and its declaration that a tar sands refinery in Delaware made the air “cleaner,” among many other industry-friendly rulings.  

Worst of all, perhaps - and potentially in violation of federal law - ERM Group lied on its State Department contract, claiming it had no business ties to TransCanada and the tar sands industry. The facts showed otherwise. 

This latest development certainly raises the prospect of a further delay, if not another sign that the Keystone XL will be rejected by President Obama.   

Thu, 2013-08-22 04:00Laurel Whitney
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US Tar Sands Operations Challenged By Grassroots Opposition

While many environmental advocates urge consumers to buy local, in this case, local isn't always better. While the Canadian tar sands are more notorious, developments here in the US are moving forward as local governments issue more permits to allow companies to start mining.

More than half of the U.S. tar sands resources in active play are in Utah. As DeSmog reported previously, the first US tar sands mine was approved in Utah back in October 2012, with plans to seek a few more permits and begin construction in 2013. After the Utah Water Quality Board approved the permit, the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining also gave the operation the green light to move forward with production.

Since then, US Oil Sands Inc., the company developing the land for extraction, is marching forward. According to exploratory analysis, the 5,930 acres under lease contain approximately 184.3 million barrels of oil. That's not including over 26,000 acres that weren't evaluated in the report.

“Based on the [report] and the positive results provided by our exploratory drilling program, we are able to credibly showcase the potential our Utah properties hold for the company and demonstrate that we are one step closer to execution of the first phase of development of PR Spring,” announced CEO Cameron Todd in an earlier report, “…detailed pit planning is now underway in these locations.”


The company plans to be commercially operational by 2014.

Sat, 2013-08-17 12:13Carol Linnitt
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CNRL Cold Lake Bitumen Seepage Hits 1.2 Million Litres, Reports AER

cold lake bitumen spill, underground seepage, CNRL

The ongoing trouble on the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range in North Eastern Alberta, where oil company Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. (CNRL) has numerous in situ oil recovery sites, has yet to show signs of abatement.

Underground oil spills on CNRL’s Primrose facility have been leaking bitumen emulsion into the muskeg, waterways and forest that surround the site for nearly three months.

The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) says the total volume of bitumen emulsion recovered from four separate sites where the seepage is ongoing is now 1275.7 cubic metres, the equivalent of 8024 barrels of oil or 1.27 million litres.

The original volume of the spill was reported as 28 cubic metres.

Fri, 2013-08-16 10:51Steve Horn
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Warren Buffett Buys Over $500 Million of Suncor Tar Sands Stock, Latest in "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap"

Warren Buffett - the fourth richest man on the planet and major campaign contributor to President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 - may soon get a whole lot richer.

That's because he just bought over half a billion bucks worth of Suncor Energy stock: $524 million in the second quarter of 2013, to be precise, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings. Suncor is a major producer and marketer of tar sands via its wholly owned subsidiary Petro-Canada (formerly Sunoco) and this latest development follows a trend of Buffett enriching himself through dirty investments and deal-making. 

So far in 2013, Suncor (formerly Sun Oil Company) has produced 328,000 barrels per day of tar sands crude.

Though he receives far less negative press than the Koch Brothers, Buffett's no deep green ecologist. Not in the slightest. 

Referred to as one of 17 “Climate Killers” by Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson in a January 2010 story, Buffett owns the behemoth holding company, Berkshire Hathway. It's through Berkshire that he's making a killing - while simultaneously killing the ecosystem - through one of its most profitable wholly-owned assets: Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF).

Buffett purchased BNSF for $26 billion and was “the largest acquisition of Buffett's storied career,” Dickinson wrote.

BNSF hauls around frac sand for the controversial horizontal oil and gas drilling process known as “fracking.” The rail company also moves fracked oil from North Dakota's Bakken Shale basin, tar sands logistical equipment and tar sands crude itself and tons of coal. And not only does Buffett's BNSF haul around ungodly amounts of coal, he actually owns coal-burning utility companies, too.

Fri, 2013-08-16 05:00Steve Horn
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Law Firm Behind Removal of YouTube Tar Sands Satire Fundraiser Tied to Big Oil

Law Firm Behind Removal of YouTube Tar Sands Satire Fundraiser Tied to Big Oil

DeSmog Canada recently revealed Andy Cobb and Mike Damanskis - two political satirists in the spotlight for their ongoing spoofery of the Alberta tar sands project - had an Indiegogo fundraising promotional video for their upcoming “vacation” to the Alberta tar sands ordered removed from YouTube due to an alleged copyright violation.

Alleged because under U.S. legal precedent (YouTube is a U.S. company), it's almost impossible to claim copyright damages for parody and/or satire. That won't keep Travel Alberta, the province's tourism bureau, from trying.

“The original inspiration for our project is that industry PR around the tar sands seems like a cross between a travel ad and oil company ad, inviting us to 'come to Alberta' and see for ourselves,” Mike Damanskis told DeSmog

Demanskis has provided DeSmog with a copy of Travel Alberta's complaint, a screenshot of which can been seen below.

Thu, 2013-08-15 14:50Steve Horn
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Mark Fiore Unveils "Keystone Clones" Cartoon on Keystone XL Corruption Ring

mark fiore tar sands timmy keystone xl

Mark Fiore - the Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist satirist - has a new video out that in two-minutes pokes fun at the perverse conflicts of interest that've prevailed throughout debate over the prospective Keystone XL northern half.

It's these conflicts of interest that DeSmogBlog has focused on in the past several months since the March 2013 release of the sham U.S. State Department Keystone XL environmental review. Some of the conflicts of interest covered in Fiore's 2-minute video titled “Keystone Clones” now up on Moyers and Company's website include:

-Anita Dunn/Robert Bauer Scandal: Described as a “Power Couple” by NewsweekAnita Dunn is President Barack Obama's former communications director and was a top-level communications advisor for Obama's 2008 run for president and Secretary of State John Kerry's 2004 run for president. Through her PR firm SKDKnickerbocker, she does communications work for TransCanada, owner of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Her husband Robert “Bob” Bauer is Obama's personal attorney, former White House Counsel under Obama, and served as the election law attorney for Kerry in 2004 and Obama in 2008 and 2012. Infamous in election law reform circles for his attempts to bend election law in such a way as to flood the electoral system with more money, Bauer's law firm Perkins Coie also has an attorney-client relationship with TransCanada.

-ERM Group Scandals: Obama's State Department chose a Big Oil-connected contractor named Environmental Resources Management, Inc. (ERM Group) to do the environmental review for Keystone XL's northern half. ERM - which historically also did contract work for Big Tobacco - has rubber-stamped ecologically hazardous projects in the Caspian Sea-area, Peru, Delaware and now the Keystone XL.

Given this shady track record, it's unsurprising it also said the pipeline's northern half - if built - would have negligible climate change impacts. 

Thu, 2013-08-15 08:25Steve Horn
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Keystone XL Influence Peddling Web Extends into PA Governor's Race Via Katie McGinty

Pennsylvania Democratic Party gubernatorial candidate and former head of the PA Department of Environmental Protection, Kathleen “Katie” McGinty, has hired powerful PR firm SKDKnickerbocker for her campaign's communications efforts.

SKDKnickerbocker - once known as Squier Knapp Dunn - is co-owned by President Barack Obama's former Communications Director Anita Dunn and a member of Obama's national media team for his 2008 run for President, Bill Knapp. Both Dunn and Knapp previously did PR for U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's 2004 run for President, as well.

One of SKDKnickerbocker's key clients is TransCanada, owner of the Keystone XL tar sands export pipeline.

Another key SKDKnickerbocker client: Association of American Railroads, that industry's version of the American Petroleum Institute. Rail is an increasingly viable alternative to pipelines for bringing tar sands - and fracked oil - to market. 

Both McGinty and Dunn also have key marital connections with skin in the game for the looming decision over the prospective northern half of Keystone XL: Karl Hausker and Robert “Bob” Bauer, respectively. 

Wed, 2013-08-14 19:43Carol Linnitt
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Alberta Forces Tar Sands Comedy Pitch Video for Indiegogo Off YouTube

fort mcmoney tar sands alberta travel video mike damanskis andy cobb

Travel Alberta is not pleased with Andy Cobb and Mike Damanskis, two L.A.-based comedians raising funds to travel to the province’s tar sands, the world’s largest industrial project. Today, Travel Alberta filed an official complaint with YouTube, claiming the comedy duo’s crowdfunding pitch video “Welcome to Fort McMoney” was in violation of copyright law for commenting on segments of the tourism board’s “Remember to Breathe” advertisements. YouTube has since removed the video. (Update 15.08.2013: a new version of the video can now be found on Vimeo).

Cobb and Damanskis were hoping to take the oil industry up on its invitation to visit the tar sands in person, a welcome that features prominently in ads by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), Canada’s largest oil and gas lobby body. CAPP’s ads, designed to play up the benefits of fossil fuel consumption, begin with the invitation “Canada’s Oil Sands: Come See for Yourself.”

Tue, 2013-08-13 09:58Carol Linnitt
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Tar Sands Have to Be Made Funny Before They Can Be Made to Go Away

mike damanskis, andy cobb, tar sands satire

Seasoned comedians Andy Cobb and Mike Damanskis have decided the Alberta government’s invitation to ‘come and see’ the tar sands is just too tempting. After all, the province’s tagline, they say, is “remember to breathe.” Sounds just like the holiday two hardworking jokesters from L.A. are in need of.

But before Andy and Mike pack up for their trip, destined to un-spin the PR surrounding one of the biggest and dirtiest industrial projects on the face of the planet, DeSmog caught up with them to ask a few questions.

1. What got you two interested in the issue of industry spin regarding the tar sands?

Andy: It's just so egregious on so many levels. It's the galling face of the most important issue of our times, climate change. So, y'know, there's the whole “poisoning local populations, destroying the planet” angle, which is (I spose) bad enough. But as a comic and a videomaker the sheer craptastic-ocity (technical term) of their campaigns adds a special flavor to the whole thing. I mean, to have as part of their greenwashing campaign an invitation to visit an environmental disaster area as tourists? It's just so in-your-face stupid and shameless that it's more than an ecological nightmare. It's a satirical wet dream. We had to take them up on it.

Tue, 2013-08-06 06:00Steve Horn
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Fracking's Myriad Ties to Flawed State Dept Keystone XL Environmental Review

fracking keystone xl pipeline ERM

Most don't think of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) when pondering the future of TransCanada's Keystone XL tar sands export pipeline - but they should. 

There are numerous ties between key members of the fracking industry and groups pushing for approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. And these threads all lead back, one way or another, to Environmental Resources Management, Inc. (ERM Group).

ERM Group did the official U.S. State Department's environmental review for Keystone XL pipeline. The review, published in March 2013, determined the pipeline will have negligible climate change impacts (the review dealt with the northern segment of the pipeline as the southern half, now known as the “Gulf Coast Pipeline,” received an expedited Executive Order permit by President Barack Obama in March 2012).

ERM is also a paying member of the American Petroleum Institute (API), which has spent over $22 million lobbying on Keystone XL since June 2008

In its bid to provide the environmental review for the Keystone XL pipeline, ERM overtly lied on its conflict-of-interest form, saying it has no current business ties to TransCanada. ERM has an ongoing consulting relationship with the company responsible for the Alaska South Central LNG Project, also known as Alaska Gas Pipeline Project. The company, South Central LNG, is co-owned by TransCanada.

On top of lying about its current business ties, ERM stated on the conflict-of-interest form it had 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.” In so doing, ERM may have broken federal law - 18 USC § 1001 - by making a false claim on a federal contract.

The State Department's Office of Inspector General has officially launched an inquiry into how and why State overlooked ERM's omission, allowing ERM to potentially commit a crime. 

In addition to potentially fraudulent claims about its connection to TransCanada, ERM also has significant ties to major gas industry groups and major players supporting the fracking boom in the US.

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