tar sands

Mon, 2011-08-29 20:17Emma Pullman
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New Infographic Shows how Keystone Pipelines are ‘Built to Spill’

TransCanada claims their pipelines are the safest in the continent. And the State Department seems inclined to agree having released their Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the Keystone XL pipeline last week. They find that the pipeline poses “no significant impacts” to the environment, and advise the project move forward.

So what about the 12 spills along the Keystone I line in its first year of operation? Since commencing operation in June of 2010, the Keystone I pipeline has suffered more spills than any other 1st year pipeline in U.S. history.

In addition to a nasty spill record, the proposed Keystone XL will cross one of the largest aquifers in the world – the Ogallala – which supplies drinking water to millions and provides 30% of the nation’s groundwater used for irrigation. Pipeline construction will also disrupt 20,782 acres, including 11,485 acres of native and modified grassland, rangeland and pastureland, and pipeline construction will threaten sensitive wildlife and aquatic species habitats.

According to the EPAcarbon emissions from tar sands crude are approximately 82% higher than the average crude refined in the U.S. Given the extremely toxic nature of tar sands bitumen and the fact that Keystone is TransCanada's first wholly owned pipeline in the U.S., it seems reasonable to look to TransCanada's performance with Keystone I for clues on how it would manage Keystone XL.

And the clues are telling.

Thu, 2011-08-25 23:19Emma Pullman
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Breaking: State Department Calls Keystone XL Environmental Impact "Limited," Ignoring Evidence

The State Department just released their Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. The 27-page document does not flag any significant environmental concerns. The EIS suggests that construction of the pipeline as proposed is preferable to alternatives considered, including: not building the pipeline, rerouting the proposed location, and transporting the oil through alternative means.

In typical agency beurocratic-speak, the main alternatives are described as such:

  • No Action Alternative – potential scenarios that could occur if the proposed Project is not built and operated;
  • System Alternatives − the use of other pipeline systems or other methods of providing Canadian crude oil to the Cushing tank farm and the Gulf Coast market;
  • Major Route Alternatives − other potential pipeline routes for transporting heavy crude oil from the U.S./Canada border to Cushing, Oklahoma and the Gulf Coast market.

None of the alternatives were considered by the State Department to be preferable to proposed construction.

Mon, 2011-08-22 10:44Laurel Whitney
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Over One Hundred Arrested Protesting Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline At White House

The DC police force must have recently put in a big order for plasti-cuffs. The commencement of the Keystone XL pipeline protest, which kicked off this past weekend, saw over 100 arrested in the first two days. But there won’t be time for a donut break yet, as the action is set to continue over the next two weeks with over 2,000 people signed up to get arrested in protest of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline that would carry the world’s filthiest oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast if approved by the Obama administration.

With people coming in from all around the nation, protesters hope to pressure President Obama to deny the permit needed to build the proposed 1700-mile pipeline from Alberta to the US Gulf Coast. Reports about the supposed safety of the pipeline have proven less than stellar, and TransCanada pipelines have already had 12 spills this year. The administration must make a decision about the pipeline by November 1st, and there is pressure coming from cheerleaders of pollution such as the Chamber of Commerce and Americans for Prosperity, to name a few, for the pipeline to go through.

It’s not the easiest thing on earth for law-abiding folk to come risk arrest. But this pipeline has emerged as the single clear test of the president’s willingness to fight for the environment,” said environmentalist and author Bill McKibben, who is spearheading the protests and was arrested on Saturday.

Thu, 2011-08-11 14:24Emma Pullman
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Permit to Pollute: Dodging New Law, Agency Approves Alberta Coal Plant

In Alberta, coal was first mined near Edmonton as early as 1850, and commercial coal operations took off in 1874. After the coal rush where hundreds of mines popped up across the province, the “black rock that burns” fell out of favour by the mid 1950s with the advent of natural gas.

While no new coal plants have been approved in Alberta in over a decade, it seems history is repeating itself. On June 30th, the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) approved the Milner Expansion Project, a 500Mw coal-fired generating facility to be built west of Edmonton. The final decision by the AUC to approve the coal plant is a serious black eye for the AUC and its ability to protect the public interest.

The project gives Calgary-based Maxim Power Corp. license to produce some of the filthiest power on the planet for 45 years while emitting 3Mt per year of greenhouse gas emissions. Alberta’s filthy tar sands are already the scourge of the planet, and this approval adds insult to injury.

Wed, 2011-08-03 06:15Ben Jervey
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U.S. Chamber Of Commerce Launches Campaign To Lobby For Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline

keystone pipeline keystone xl

Last Friday, after applauding the House’s vote to rush a decision on TransCanada Corp’s Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce launched a new campaign to boost the controversial project. The Partnership to Fuel America is run out of the U.S. Chamber’s Institute for 21st Century Energy, and seems positioned to be the U.S. Chamber’s main influence channel to drum up support for Keystone XL. Supportive comments aside, it’s also the first time the U.S. Chamber has so publicly and overtly aligned with the Canadian company’s project.

The launch comes at a pivotal moment for Keystone XL. The Obama administration has the final say in approving the pipeline, and they’ve said the decision will be made by the end of the year. The new House legislation declared that the Obama administration must make the call by November 1st. A final environmental review of the prospective project is expected from the State Department in August. (To learn more about how tar sands pipelines like Keystone XL are a much greater risk than normal crude pipelines, see my earlier post.)

Tue, 2011-08-02 11:15Carol Linnitt
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If You Build It, They Will Spill: Dene First Nation Opposes Enbridge Tar Sands Pipeline

The proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline spans a massive stretch of provincial territory from Edmonton, Alberta to Kitimat, B.C. Over 50 percent of the planned pipeline and tanker routes snake through First Nations territory, which prohibits such development according to their traditional laws.

With over 100 pipeline spills and accidents recorded in Canada over the past two years there is only one thing to say about pipelines; they will spill.” These words, from Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus, marked the passing of a resolution, unanimously signed by 35 Chiefs of Denendeh, to oppose the pipeline’s construction.

The Yinka Dene Alliance expressed in May that, under no circumstance, were they interested in negotiating with Enbridge.

Now, this powerful front of aboriginal nations are demonstrating their solidarity with the Yinka Dene Alliance. “These Nations now have the support of Dene from northern Alberta to the Arctic coast,” says Erasmus.

Fri, 2011-07-29 12:14Ben Jervey
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The Many Problems With Tar Sands Pipelines

Enbridge tar sands pipeline spill Kalamazoo River Michigan

Note: This post is part of an ongoing series about North American pipelines. For an introduction and links to the wide-ranging coverage–from safety to legal issues to the business and economics to vulnerabilities–see this regularly-updated intro post.

On Monday, the House passed a bill that would force the Obama administration to make a final decision on TransCanada’s controversial Keystone XL pipeline by November 1. The Keystone XL project (which regular DeSmogBlog readers should be familiar with) would funnel tar sands oil from Alberta’s massive reserves down to Gulf Coast refineries in Texas.

This isn’t the place to discuss in too much depth the various and plentiful problems with Alberta tar sands itself – from extraction to transportation to refining to combustion, it’s the dirtiest oil on the planet. From a climate perspective, the Alberta tar sands contain enough carbon to lock the planet into climate chaos. In the words of NASA climatologist Jim Hansen, “if the tar sands are thrown into the mix it is essentially game over.”

Because Keystone XL is so controversial, and because its construction could be such a tipping point in the climate fight, a broad and diverse coalition of scientists and activists are digging in their heels for a big fight, and planning a multi-week action at the White House. (Here’s more on how to get involved.)

But since this is a post about pipelines, I’m going to focus on how tar sands pipelines are different than those that carry conventional crude, how they’re much more prone to leaks and spills, and how those spills are particularly bad for the environment.

Fri, 2011-06-10 11:12Farron Cousins
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Proposed Keystone XL Pipeline Would Feature Woefully Inadequate Spill Detection System

According to the NRDC, the proposed $13 billion Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would not be able to detect “pinhole leaks” in the pipeline that release fewer than 700,000 gallons of tar sands oil a day. The company proposing to build the pipeline, TransCanada, has admitted that their leak detection system be unable to detect such leaks in real-time, meaning a small but powerful leak could continue for weeks before the company became aware of the problem.

What’s worse is that the proposed pipeline would run directly over the Ogallala aquifer, one of the largest underwater freshwater reserves in America, meaning that a pinhole leak could poison millions of gallons of water in an area that cannot be easily accessed, and that provides drinking water to millions of Americans.

Thu, 2011-06-02 16:15Farron Cousins
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UK Opposed to Europe’s Tar Sands Import Ban

While most European countries are working on a proposal that would effectively ban the use of Canadian tar sands in the European Union, the United Kingdom has made it clear that they will not support any measure to reduce their reliance on tar sands. Britain joins the Netherlands as one of only two countries that want to continue to have the option to use oil derived from Canadian tar sands.

The EU is working to produce a new “fuel directive” this year that would reduce the amount of emissions acceptable from fuels used for transportation. The directive would require a 6% reduction in the amount of emissions from vehicle fuel over the next 9 years. Because the emissions from tar sands run about 23% higher than those from traditional fossil fuels, this would mean that their use in the EU would be effectively prohibited.

Thu, 2011-06-02 12:32Bill McKibben
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President Obama Must Say No To Dirty Energy's Wish List

Originally published at TomDispatch.

In our globalized world, old-fashioned geography is not supposed to count for much: mountain ranges, deep-water ports, railroad grades – those seem so nineteenth century. The earth is flat, or so I remember somebody saying.

But those nostalgic for an earlier day, take heart. The Obama administration is making its biggest decisions yet on our energy future and those decisions are intimately tied to this continent’s geography. Remember those old maps from your high-school textbooks that showed each state and province’s prime economic activities? A sheaf of wheat for farm country? A little steel mill for manufacturing? These days in North America what you want to look for are the pickaxes that mean mining, and the derricks that stand for oil.

There’s a pickaxe in the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming, one of the world’s richest deposits of coal. If we’re going to have any hope of slowing climate change, that coal – and so all that future carbon dioxide – needs to stay in the ground.  In precisely the way we hope Brazil guards the Amazon rainforest, that massive sponge for carbon dioxide absorption, we need to stand sentinel over all that coal.

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