tar sands

Wed, 2013-06-26 21:10Steve Horn
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API Spent $22 Million Lobbying for Keystone XL; State Dept Contractor ERM an API Member

In President Barack Obama's Climate Action Plan address, he stated that TransCanada's Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would only receive State Department approval “if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.” 

As it stands, that means Keystone XL - which if built to full capacity would pipe diluted bitumen, or “dilbit” from the Alberta tar sands down to Port Arthur, TX refineries for shipment to the global export market - may likely receive Obama's approval.

That's because Obama's State Dept. - assigned to make a final decision on KXL because it crosses the international border - contracted its Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Study (SEIS) out to Environmental Resources Management, Inc. (ERM Group).

ERM Group is a dues-paying member of the American Petroleum Institute (API), as is TransCanada.

The SEIS concluded KXL's “approval or denial” - misleading because its southern half is already 75-percent complete via an Obama March 2012 Executive Order - “is unlikely to have a substantial impact on the rate of development” of the tar sands. Therefore, it will also have little impact on climate change, according to ERM's SEIS

It's important to remember that ERM was chosen on behalf of State by TransCanada itself. Futher, one of the ERM employees tasked to conduct the SEIS, as exposed in a Mother Jones investigation, is a former TransCanada employee.

A DeSmog investigation also reveals that API has spent $22.03 million dollars lobbying at the federal level on Keystone XL and/or tar sands issues since the pipeline was initially proposed in June 2008. Further, some of those oil lobbyists have direct ties to both President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the two men who have the final say on KXL

Thu, 2013-06-20 07:41Kevin Grandia
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[Infographic] Debunking the Economic and National Security Myths Around Keystone XL Pipeline

Today, billionaire clean energy philanthropist Tom Steyer held a press conference to debunk the myths that the Keystone XL pipeline will lead to major economic growth and national security. 

Keystone is an “export pipeline” that would transport toxic tar sands from Alberta down to a tax-free zone in Texas and out to foreign markets.

In other words, the EU, China and Latin America get the oil, the foreign-owned oil companies get the profits and North Americans are left cleaning up oil spills and shouldering the pollution burden from extracting and refining the dirty tar sands. It's a complicated issue for sure, so I've tried to break out the main points in an infographic. Please feel free to download and share it. All the information has been fact-checked and verified by energy policy experts.

Here is the high-resolution version for download.

Mon, 2013-06-17 17:06Guest
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Tar Sands Giant Suncor Announces Fewer Safety Checks To Avoid “Foregone Revenue”

This is a guest post by Don Lieber, originally published on PlanetSave.

Suncor Energy, the largest producer in Canada’s tar sands oil operations, has announced it will require fewer major safety maintenance “shut-down” checks at its Alberta production sites, decreasing the required checks to once every five years, down from its prior four-year schedule.

Steve Douglas, Suncor’s vice president of investor relations, said that routine safety shut downs cost the company money due to necessary replacement of equipment, labor, and lost revenue during the shut-down. This was reported by Reuters on June 7.

Ignoring the implications for public health, safety, and carbon-related climate consequences of tar sands operations, Douglas focused on revenue stream, saying, “You’re entirely down during a maintenance period. There’s significant foregone revenue during a period like that. It’s material.”

With not just a hint of Orwellian logic, the decision to require fewer major safety checks was made despite many high-profile Suncor accidents in recent months and years.

Thu, 2013-06-13 20:29Steve Horn
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Keystone XL Activists Labeled Possible Eco-Terrorists in Internal TransCanada Documents

Documents recently obtained by Bold Nebraska show that TransCanada - owner of the hotly-contested Keystone XL (KXL) tar sands pipeline - has colluded with an FBI/DHS Fusion Center in Nebraska, labeling non-violent activists as possible candidates for “terrorism” charges and other serious criminal charges.

Further, the language in some of the documents is so vague that it could also ensnare journalists, researchers and academics, as well. 

TransCanada also built a roster of names and photos of specific individuals involved in organizing against the pipeline, including 350.org's Rae Breaux, Rainforest Action Network's Scott Parkin and Tar Sands Blockade's Ron Seifert. Further, every activist ever arrested protesting the pipeline's southern half is listed by name with their respective photo shown, along with the date of arrest.

It's PSYOPs-gate and “fracktivists” as “an insurgency” all over again, but this time it's another central battleground that's in play: the northern half of KXL, a proposed border-crossing pipeline whose final fate lies in the hands of President Barack Obama.

The southern half of the pipeline was approved by the Obama Admin. via a March 2013 Executive OrderTogether, the two pipeline halves would pump diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) south from the Alberta tar sands toward Port Arthur, TX, where it will be refined and shipped to the global export market.

Activists across North America have put up a formidable fight against both halves of the pipeline, ranging from the summer 2011 Tar Sands Action to the ongoing Tar Sands Blockade. Apparently, TransCanada has followed the action closely, given the level of detail in the documents.

Mon, 2013-06-10 08:36Jeff Gailus
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Greenwashing the Tar Sands, Part 3: Wherein money trumps fact every time

This is last installment of a three-part series on greenwashing and the tar sands. Be sure to read Part 1, A Short History of Greenwashing the Tar Sands, and Part 2, Do As I Say, Not As I Do.

Recently, Canadian Oil Sands Chief Executive Officer Marcel Coutu explained to Bloomberg why he and other big shot oil executives have been lobbying U.S. politicians so hard for the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would ferry more than 800,000 barrels of tar sands crude to the Gulf Coast. Coutu had participated in a Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) lobbying junket in February, and another trip is being planned for this month.

The first reason is money. The Keystone XL pipeline is a vital component of the tar sands industry’s plans. Without it, it will be hard for Big Oil to double production of tar sands crude by 2020. With no way to transport the extra crude to markets in the U.S. and beyond, there would be no point in spending all that money to turn bitumen into a crude form of oil. This, Coutu said, has had a chilling effect on investment and share prices.

Canadian Oil Sands shares have risen just two per cent this year, while Cenovus’ have fallen seven percent and Imperial Oil’s are down 6.2 percent. Keystone XL, says Todd Kepler, a Calgary-based oil and gas analyst at Cormark Securities, would increase share prices for oil producers by as much as 20 per cent.

That's a big deal worth millions of dollars.

Mon, 2013-06-03 18:54Steve Horn
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Dirty Details: Dents, Faulty Welds Found Along Keystone XL Southern Half in Texas

If an ecologically hazardous accident happens to TransCanada's Keystone XL (KXL) tar sands pipeline, we can't say we weren't forewarned. That's the latest from a press release and YouTube video recently disseminated by the good government group, Public Citizen

Public Citizen's Texas office explained, “Dozens of anomalies, including dents and welds, reportedly have been identified along a 60-mile stretch of the southern segment of the Keystone XL pipeline, north of the Sabine River in Texas.”

A recent report appearing in The Houston Chronicle revealed KXL's southern half is over 75-percent complete and will be on-line by late-2013. That half of the pipeline brings tar sands - also known as diluted bitumen, or “dilbit” - from Cushing, OK (dubbed the “pipeline cross-roads of the world”) down to Port Arthur, TX, where it ends up exported to the global market.

KXL's northern half is still in its proposal phase. Its eventual fate sits entirely in the hands of President Barack Obama and his U.S. State Department because it's a border-crossing pipeline. In March 2012, President Obama issued an Executive Order for expediting building of KXL's southern half.

Earlier this year, Tar Sands Blockade - a group committed to creative non-violent direct action to stop the building of KXL's southern half - also detected defective welding in the pipeline, akin go that discovered by Public Citizen. The group did so when one of its activists went inside of the pipeline and discovered light seeping through it.  

Sun, 2013-06-02 08:04Farron Cousins
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Legal Headaches Begin For Exxon Over Pegasus Pipeline Rupture

Residents in Mayflower, Arkansas, the site of the recent Pegasus tar sands pipeline rupture, have filed suit against pipeline operator Exxon for health issues and property damage that have arisen since the spill.

Those affected by the pipeline’s spill have complained of numerous, though mild, health problems including headaches, nausea, and breathing difficulties.  While these symptoms are relatively mild, it should be noted that it has only been a month since the spill, and more severe problems are likely to creep up in the coming months.

The main concern is that the neurotoxins and carcinogens within the tar sands, particularly those contained in the diluted bitumen (dilbit), will plague the residents for years to come.

Thu, 2013-05-30 03:00Steve Horn
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State Department Inspector General Investigating Keystone XL Contractor ERM's Conflicts of Interest

The Checks and Balances Project has announced that the U.S. State Department's Office of Inspector General (OIG) has launched a conflicts-of-interest investigation into dirty dealings pertaining to the contractor tasked to perform the environmental review for the northern half of TransCanada's Keystone XL tar sands pipeline on behalf of State. 

Environmental Resources Management, Inc. (ERM Group) declared the northern portion of Keystone XL as environmentally safe and sound on behalf of State in March, in defiance of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's assessment, among others.

The northern half of Keystone XL will connect to the over 75-percent complete southern half and - if built - will carry Alberta's tar sands bitumen south to Texas refineries, with most of the final product shipped to the highest bidder on the global market. State and eventually President Barack Obama have the final say over the proposal because the northern section of pipeline crosses the international border. 

The overarching problem with that ERM assessment, as first revealed on Grist by Brad Johnson: ERM Group was chosen not by the State Dept., but by TransCanada itself. Furthermore, as first revealed on Mother Jones by Andy Kroll, the State Dept. redacted biographical portions of the EIS that pointed to ERM's ongoing close consulting relationship with ERM Group and TransCanada.

“The American public was supposed to get an honest look at the impacts of the Keystone XL pipeline,” writes Checks and Balances' Gabe Elsner. “Instead…a fossil fuel contractor, hid its ties from the State Department so they could green light the project on behalf of its oil company clients.”

Instead of an honest look, the public got deception, perhaps not surprisingly given ERM's historical contracting relationship with Big Tobacco, as first revealed here on DeSmogBlog. ERM seems to have blatantly lied to the State Dept. - which apparently did no homework of its own, or turned a blind eye at least - and answered “no” to the question shown in the screenshot below. 

ERM also told State it was not an energy interest, when the facts say otherwise.

“The State Department question defines an energy interest in part as any company or person engaged in research related to energy development,” wrote Eslner. “Yet, ERM has worked for all of the top five oil companies and dozens of other fossil fuel companies. In other words, ERM is clearly an energy interest.”

Fri, 2013-05-24 13:30Carol Linnitt
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The Beaver Lake Cree Judgment: The Most Important Tar Sands Case You’ve Never Heard Of

Sure they’re bad for the environment, for human health, and for wildlife, but we rarely stop to wonder if the Alberta tar sands are in fact unconstitutional.

But the constitutional standing of the tar sands – one of the world’s largest and most carbon-intensive energy projects – is just what’s at stake in a treaty rights claim the Beaver Lake Cree Nation (BLCN) is bringing against the Governments of Alberta and Canada in a case that promises to be one of the most significant legal and constitutional challenges to the megaproject seen in Canada to date.

Signaling the high-stakes of the whole dispute, it has taken five years of beleaguered fighting just to have the case go to trial. Canada and Alberta – the defendants – fought tooth and nail during those five years to have the claim dismissed outright, saying the case put forward by the BLCN was “frivolous, improper and an abuse of process.”

Fri, 2013-05-24 05:00Caroline Selle
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Is Houston a Tar Sands “Sacrifice Zone”?

This is a guest post by Caroline Selle

Much of the debate around the Keystone XL pipeline has focused on the dangers of extracting and transporting the tar sands. 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.

Tar sands oil is produced from a mixture of sand, clay, water, and the sticky, peanut-butter like form of petroleum known as bitumen. Unlike conventional crude, it’s essentially solid at room temperature, has a higher heavy metal content, and has to be diluted for transport. The diluents are trade secrets, and the content mixture - which often contains benzene, a human carcinogen - isn’t something companies are required to report.

DeSmogBlog has covered the impacts of tar sands extraction on indigenous communities, and the dangers of moving tar sands through a network of pipelines is aptly covered here. And while major nonprofits have completed studies on the dangers of transporting tar sands, there is significantly less information available on how refining tar sands differs from processing conventional crude.

Additional heavy metals and benzene might sound like a recipe for disaster anywhere, but the location of several major tar sands refineries is already overburdened with pollutants. In Harris County, Texas – home to the city of Houston – people are already surrounded by refineries and factories spewing toxic pollution into the air. And as the southern leg of the Keystone XL project slowly fills in its missing pieces, the spectre of toxic bitumen looms.

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