tar sands

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.

Thu, 2013-05-23 08:00Indra Das
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Harper Government Keeps Details Of $16.5M Oil Industry Ad Campaign Under Wraps

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver

This week, under questioning from opposition MPs, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver confirmed that his department intends to spend up to 16.5 million dollars on advertising in the upcoming year. Further details on how this taxpayer-funded PR campaign for Canada's natural resources will be run were lacking.

Mike De Souza writes for Canada.com, that Oliver “also declined to provide specifics on a training program, worth up to $500,000, for his department's scientists and other officials, 'designed to help them communicate with the public and to do so in a way that is accessible to the public.'”

Speaking to a special committee studying spending estimates in the House of Commons on Tuesday evening, Oliver confirmed that much of the advertising would be focused on promoting the proposed TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline linking Albertan tar sands oil to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast.

Wed, 2013-05-22 07:00Guest
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Exxon Knew of Dangerous Contamination from Arkansas Spill, Yet Claimed Area “Oil Free”

This is a guest blog by Jesse Coleman, cross-posted from Greenpeace blog The Witness

On March 29 ExxonMobil, the most profitable company in the world, spilled at least 210,000 gallons of tar sands crude oil from an underground pipeline in Mayflower, Arkansas. The pipeline was carrying tar sands oil from Canada, which flooded family residences in Mayflower in thick tarry crude. Exxon’s tar sands crude also ran into Lake Conway, which sits about an eighth of a mile from where Exxon’s pipeline ruptured.

The cove of Lake Conway which Exxon claimed was “oil-free”
Thu, 2013-05-16 11:24Kevin Grandia
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10 Reasons Canada Needs to Rethink the Tar Sands

alberta tar sands oil sands

As a Canadian it blows my mind that we can have the second largest deposits of oil in the world, but our government remains billions in debt and one in seven Canadian children live in poverty.

Wed, 2013-05-15 05:00Steve Horn
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Faulkner County: ExxonMobil's "Sacrifice Zone" for Tar Sands Pipelines, Fracking

There are few better examples of a “sacrifice zone” for ExxonMobil and the fossil fuel industry at-large than Faulkner County, Arkansas and the counties surrounding it. 

Six weeks have passed since a 22-foot gash in ExxonMobil's Pegasus tar sands Pipeline spilled over 500,000 gallons of heavy crude into the quaint neighborhood of Mayflower, AR, a township with a population of roughly 2,300 peopleThe air remains hazardous to breathe in, it emits a putrid strench, and the water in Lake Conway is still rife with tar sands crude.

These facts are well known.

Less known is the fact that Faulkner County - within which Mayflower sits - is a major “sacrifice zone” for ExxonMobil not only for its pipeline infrastructure, but also for the controversial hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) process. The Fayetteville Shale basin sits underneath Faulkner County. 

ExxonMobil purchased XTO Energy for $41 billion in Dec. 2009 as a wholly-owned subsidiary. XTO owns 704,000 acres of land in 15 counties in Arkansas. Among them: Faulkner. 

Private Empire” ExxonMobil is now the defendant in a class action lawsuit filed by the citizens of Mayflower claiming damages caused in their community by the ruptured Pegasus Pipeline. ExxonMobil's XTO subsidiary was also the subject of a class action lawsuit concerning damages caused by fracking in May 2011 and another regarding fracking waste injection wells in Oct. 2012. 

This isn't the naturalist novelist William Faulkner's Faulkner County, that's for certain.

Fri, 2013-05-03 04:30Steve Horn
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Obama's Former Communications Director's Firm Does PR For Keystone XL Pipeline, Tar Sands Rail Transport

Double-dipping is a “no go” in the real world of eating chips and salsa with a circle of friends but an everyday reality in the world of lobbyists and PR professionals. 

Enter double-dipper Anita Dunn, former White House Communications Director for President Barack Obama who now runs the firm SKDKnickerbocker (Squier Knapp Dunn), a firm that “brings unparalleled strategic communications experience to Fortune 500 companies, political groups and candidates, non-profits, and labor organizations.”

Dip one: TransCanada Corporation, which SKDK does public relations work foras revealed in an Oct. 2012 New York Times investigation. TransCanada is the multinational corporation currently building the contentious southern half of the Keystone XL (KXL) tar sands pipeline, following the dictates of a March 2012 Obama Administration Executive Order. Within months, the fate of the border-crossing Alberta to Port Arthur, TX KXL export pipeline will also likely be decided by the U.S. State Department.

Dip two: Another SKDKnickerbocker client is the Association of American Railroads (AAR), the American Petroleum Institute trade association equivalent for the freight rail industry. Even without KXL - as covered previously on DeSmogBlog - tar sands crude can be moved to targeted markets via freight rail (coupled with pipeline capacity increases of other tubes and potential barging along Lake Superior).

Beneficiaries of tar sands transport via rail include AAR dues-paying member Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF), owned by major Obama donor Warren Buffett via his holding company, Berkshire Hathaway. Shell Oil - a major Alberta tar sands extractor - also pays AAR member dues, which indicates Big Oil understands the strategic importance of rail transport.   

Dunn's firm, in short, stands to gain from tar sands extraction with or without a KXL northern half, a classic case of double-dipping.

Thu, 2013-05-02 05:00Steve Horn
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Keystone Kops: TransCanada Spent $280,000 Lobbying For Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline In First Quarter

TransCanada, the multinational corporation hoping to build the controversial northern half of the Keystone XL pipeline, spent over $280,000 on lobbying the U.S. government in the first quarter (Q1) of 2013, according to lobbying disclosure records.

In addition to the $250,000 paid to Paul Elliott - TransCanada's infamous in-house lobbyist and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's national deputy campaign manager during her 2008 run for president - three outside firms lobbied on TransCanada's behalf to promote KXL.

The outside firms: Bryan Cave LLP, which reported $20,000 in earnings from TransCanda in 
Q1; McKenna, Long & Aldridge, which was paid $10,000 by TransCanada during Q1; and Van Ness Feldman, which TransCanada paid an amount under $5,000, falling under the mandatory reporting ceiling.

$280,000 is a tiny drop in the bucket compared to TransCanada's $446 million first quarter profits.

The southern half of Keystone XL is currently under construction due to a March 2012 Obama Adminstration Executive Order. The northern half is still in the proposal phase. It would carry Alberta tar sands dilbit to the Gulf Coast refineries in Port Arthur, Texas, where much of it would be exported to the global market.

As seen in an earlier investigation conducted by DeSmogBlog, many of TransCanada's lobbyists for KXL have direct ties to the Obama administration. The U.S. State Department has been tasked with the final decision on the pipeline's cross-border northern section, a risky conduit between the carbon intensive Alberta tar sands and further global climate disruption.

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