tar sands

Fri, 2013-09-20 11:18Steve Horn
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This Graphic Says It All About Keystone XL Web of Deceit

Friends of the Earth-U.S. (FOE) and 350.org have jointly unveiled an easily sharable graphic depicting the web of deceit surrounding the environmental review for the northern half of Transcanada's Keystone XL tar sands export pipeline

The graphic's notorious star: Environmental Resources Management, Inc., better known as ERM Group. ERM Group was chosen by the State Department - more specifically by Transcanada for the State Department - to perform the review.

“[T]he process has a built-in conflict of interest, because the contractors who do EIS studies for the government are paid for by the applicant,” a July investigative piece in Bloomberg explains

The graphic serves as a summation of lots of the work done here on DeSmogBlog over the last six months. In so doing, it digs into conflicts of interest, lobbyist influence peddling and outright corruption occurring at the U.S. State Department pertaining to Keystone XL.

Check out the graphic below:

Mon, 2013-09-16 12:50Steve Horn
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Frackademia: The People & Money Behind the EDF Methane Emissions Study

Update: UT-Austin has released the Steering Committee roster for the study. It consists of lead author David Allen, two EDF employees, and nine oil industry representatives, including lobbyists and PR staff from ExxonMobil, Shell, Southwestern Energy and more. See DeSmog's follow-up coverage.

The long-awaited Environmental Defense Fund (EDF)-sponsored hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) fugitive methane emissions study is finally out. Unfortunately, it's another case of “frackademia” or industry-funded 'science' dressed up to look like objective academic analysis.

If reliable, the study - published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and titled, “Measurements of methane emissions at natural gas production sites in the United States” - would have severely reduced concerns about methane emissions from fracked gas.

The report concludes .42% of fracked gas - based on samples taken from 190 production sites - is emitted into the air at the well pad. This is a full 2%-4% lower than well pad emissions estimated by Cornell University professors Robert Howarth and Anthony Ingraffea in their ground-breaking April 2011 study now simply known as the “Cornell Study.”

peek behind the curtain show the study's results - described as “unprecedented” by EDF - may have something to do with the broad spectrum of industry-friendly backers of the report which include several major oil and gas companies, individuals and foundations fully committed to promoting the production and use of fracked gas in the U.S.

One of the report's co-authors currently works as a consultant for the oil and gas industry, while another formerly worked as a petroleum engineer before entering academia.

The study will likely be paraded as “definitive” by Big Oil, its front groups and the media in the days and weeks to come.

DeSmogBlog exclusive investigation reveals the study actually stands to make its pro-gas funders a fortune in what amounts to industry-favorable data meant to justify shale gas in the public mind as a “bridge fuel” - EDF's stance on gas - now and into the future.  

Sun, 2013-09-15 07:00Julie Dermansky
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Bitumen in Los Angeles: Photos of the La Brea Tar Pits

La Brea tar pits. credit: Julie Dermansky

The La Brea Tar Pits, situated in the middle of Hancock Park in Los Angeles, are a petroleum reservoir on the southern edge of the Salt Lake Oil Field.

Working oil wells are scattered throughout the area, hidden in plain sight. Bitumen oozes and bubbles to the surface daily and traps any animals that make their way into the thick tar pits by mistake.

Bitumen also occasionally makes its way into nearby sewers, sidewalks and basements, straying from the confines of the park that was donated to the city by Captain G. Allan Hancock.

The pits were formed by crude oil seeping through fissures in the Earth's crust and evaporating into the air, leaving bitumen on the surface. The smell of aromatic hydrocarbons lingers in the air, noticeable from the nearby busy intersection of Wilshire and Beverly, and gets stronger the closer you get to the largest pit where replicas of wooly mammoths appear to be stuck in time, one half submerged in the pit. The replicas are a reminder of reality, as the pits still contain the remains of many animals that have been caught in the bitumen over time. 

LaBrea Tar Pits with wooly mammoth replica stuck in Tar:

Sat, 2013-09-07 12:20Carol Linnitt
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Uncontrolled CNRL Tar Sands Spill Ongoing, 1.4M Litres Recovered

CNRL Cold Lake tar sands bitumen spill

New figures released yesterday from the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) show a concerted effort is still underway to clean up the growing amount of bitumen emulsion – a mixture of tar sands oil and water – that is pooling in a forested area surrounding Canada Natural Resource Ltd.’s Cold Lake project.

The cause of the seepage, which shows no sign of subsiding, has yet to be determined.

AER’s updated volumes show that the total amount of bitumen emulsion recovered on four separate spill sites amounts to 1444.4 cubic metres, a volume equivalent to 1.4 million litres of oil.

In addition, cleanup crews have removed 494 cubic metres of oily vegetation from the forested landscape and an additional 1049.62 metric tonnes – equivalent to 2.3 million pounds – of “impacted soils.”

Thu, 2013-08-29 09:58David Ravensbergen
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At the Limits of the Market: Why Capitalism Won't Solve Climate Change, Part 1

climate change, capitalism, environmental issues in Canada

One of the great mysteries of contemporary capitalism is the fact that as a system it appears absolutely incapable of responding to the crisis of climate change. Why can’t a system that made the automobile into an accessible mass consumer good provide us with clean and efficient mass transit, or at the very least electric cars? Why are we still burning coal, the energy source that drove the Industrial Revolution over 200 years ago? Where are all the new green enterprises leading the way into a low-carbon future?

From Joseph Schumpeter’s description of “creative destruction” to the fabled entrepreneurial powers of innovators like Steve Jobs, we’re accustomed to thinking that capitalism provides the social and economic framework that best nurtures human creativity and fosters technological innovation.

But with atmospheric concentrations of CO2 sailing past 400ppm and scientists warning of a global environmental catastrophe caused by the breaching of the nine planetary boundaries, the forces of the market are curiously silent.

Mon, 2013-08-26 14:26Carol Linnitt
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Official Price of the Enbridge Kalamazoo Spill, A Whopping $1,039,000,000

Enbridge Kalamazoo oil spill

The largest onshore oil spill in US history - Enbridge's ruptured Line 6B that released nearly 3 million liters of tar sands diluted bitumen into a tributary of the Kalamazoo River in Michigan - finally has an official price tag: $1,039,000,000 USD. That's according to newly disclosed figures released by Enbridge in a Revised Application to expand another one of its pipelines, the Alberta Clipper.

The total cost, which includes clean up and remediation, was topped off with an additional $3,699,200 fine levied by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). According to the docket, Enbridge violated several laws involving pipeline management, procedural manuals for operations and maintenance, public awareness, accident reporting and qualifications among others.

The spill, which went unaddressed for over 17 hours, was exacerbated by Enbridge's failed response according to the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). At a hearing last year the NTSB's chair Deborah Hersman likened the company to a band of Keystone Kops for their bungled response, which included twice pumping additional crude into the line - accounting for 81 percent of the total release - before initiating emergency shut down. The disaster revealed numerous internal problems within Enbridge that were further described by the NTSB as “pervasive organizational failures.”

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.

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