tar sands

Tue, 2013-07-16 11:00Steve Horn
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Friends of the Earth Sues State Department on Keystone XL FOIA Delay, DeSmog Requests White House Financial Disclosure Forms

Friends of the Earth-U.S. (FOE) has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. State Department for failing to expedite its April 2013 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking communications between TransCanada Keystone XL tar sands export pipeline's influence peddlers and the agency tasked to make the final decision on KXL's northern half.  

FOE's request seeks records of communications between State - which FOE has yet to hear back from since the April expedition request denial - and a cadre of powerful lobbyists.

The most well-connected of the group is Anita Dunn, a principal at SDKnickberbocker, a senior advisor to Obama's 2012 reelection campaign and former communications director for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee under then-Senator Kerry. Dunn - who had over 100 private meetings with the Obama Admininistration between 2009 and 2012 according to a New York Times investigation - now does public relations on behalf of TransCanada at SDKnickberbocker.

Dunn's husband Robert “Bob” Bauer - President Obama's personal attorney, former White House Counsel for Obama, Counsel for the Democratic National Committee and election law attorney for Obama's 2012 reelection campaign - works at a law firm that does legal work on behalf of another TransCanada-owned pipeline, Alaska's South Central LNG.

DeSmogBlog submitted a FOIA request to the White House for the financial disclosure forms of Dunn and Bauer on July 5.

Tue, 2013-07-16 07:57Steve Horn
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Keystone XL Scandal: Obama Attorney's Law Firm Represents TransCanada's Pipeline in Alaska

DeSmogBlog investigation reveals that Robert Bauer, former White House Counsel and President Barack Obama's personal attorney, works at the corporate law firm Perkins Coie LLP, which does legal work for TransCanada's South Central LNG Project, formerly known as Alaska Gas Pipeline Project.

Furthermore, 
Dan Sullivan, current Commissioner of Alaska's Department of Natural Resources, and former Alaska Attorney General and former Assistant Secretary of State in the Bush Administration, is a former Perkins attorney. 

These findings come in the immediate aftermath of a recent investigation revealing the contractor hired by Obama's U.S. State Department to do the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for the northern half of TransCanada's Keystone XL tar sands export pipeline - Environmental Resources Management, Inc. (ERM Group) - lied on its June 2012 conflict-of interest filing. ERM Group checked the box on the form saying it had no current business ties to TransCanada.

In fact, ERM - a member of the American Petroleum Institute (API), which has spent over $22 million lobbying on tar sands and Keystone XL since 2008 - does maintain business ties to TransCanada, the investigation revealed. This includes an ongoing consulting relationship with South Central LNG, co-owned by TransCanada, ExxonMobil, BP and ConocoPhillips.

Under 18 USC § 1001, making a “materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation…[to the] executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the Government of the United States“ is a crime punishable by up to five years in jail

On top of his job at Perkins Coie, Bauer - a well-known architect of bending campaign finance law to allow more corporate money to flood into electoral races - served as general counsel to President Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign. He also serves as general counsel to the Democratic National Committee and did electoral law work for John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign. 

His wife, Anita Dunn is the co-owner of SKDKnickerbocker, former Obama Communications Director, senior advisor for Obama's 2012 re-election campaign and is the former communications director for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee under then-Senator Kerry. She's met with top Obama administration officials more than 100 times since leaving in 2009, according to a recent New York Times investigation. 

Dunn currently does public relations work on behalf of TransCanada and freight rail industry lobbying group, American Association of Railroads (AAR). The tar sands pipeline boom comes alongside a freight rail boom to carry tar sands crude and fracked oil from North Dakota's Bakken Shale.

Wed, 2013-07-10 12:27Steve Horn
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State Dept Contractor ERM Lied About TransCanada Ties, Another Fatal Flaw of Environmental Review

The contractor the Obama U.S. State Department hired for the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) of the northern half of TransCanada's Keystone XL (KXL) tar sands export pipeline overtly lied on its conflict-of-interest disclosure form that it signed and handed to State in June 2012.

A major research dossier unfurled today by Friends of the Earth-U.S. (FOE-U.S.) and The Checks & Balances Project (CBP) shows that Environmental Resources Management, Inc. (ERM Group) played “Pinocchio” in explaining its ties - or as they say, lack thereof - to Big Oil, tar sands and TransCanada in particular on its conflict-of-interest form.

The two groups dug deep and revealed State's contractor ERM and its subsidiary Oasis Environmental both have ongoing contractual relationships with the Alaska Gas Project - now known as the South Central LNG Project - co-owned by TransCanada, ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips and BP. Further, ERM's Socioeconomic Advisor Mark Jennings served as a “Consultant to ExxonMobil Development Company for the Alaska Pipeline Project, according to his now-scrubbed LinkedIn profile

ERM's own documents - FOE-U.S. and CBP further explain - also reveal the multinational firm has business ties with over a dozen companies active in the Alberta tar sands, including Exxon, Shell, Chevron, Conoco Phillips, Total and Syncrude.

On its conflict-of-interest form, ERM said it had no “direct or indirect relationship … with any business entity that could be affected in any way by the proposed work.” Clearly, that's far from the case. 

In March, ERM Group - a City of London-based dues-paying member of the American Petroleum Institute (API) with a history of rubber-stamping ecologically hazardous oil and gas infrastructure projects - said KXL's northern half “is unlikely to have a substantial impact on the rate of development” of the tar sands in its SEIS. Thus, it will also have little impact on climate change, according to ERM's SEIS, contracted out by TransCanada on behalf of the State Department.

FOE-U.S. says these most recent developments further call the entire SEIS into question, and that doesn't include the fact that State recently revealed it's clueless as to the exact route of the Keystone XL.

Mon, 2013-07-08 13:32Kevin Grandia
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Shameful: Keystone XL Proponent Using Deadly Lac-Megantic, Quebec Oil Train Tragedy To Promote Pipeline

Five people are confirmed dead and 40 people remain missing in the small hamlet of Lac-Megantic, Quebec, where a train with 73 carloads full of Bakken shale oil derailed explosively, incinerating 30 buildings on Saturday.

Local resident Henri-Paul Audette told the Huffington Post that his brother's apartment was next to the railroad tracks, very close to the spot where the train derailed.

“I haven't heard from him since the accident,” he said. “I had thought … that I would see him.”

This is by all accounts, a major tragedy, lives have been lost, loved ones remain missing and a small town has been nearly wiped off the map. There are still a lot of unknowns about this disaster, but that has not stopped supporters of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline from using the horrific events in Lac-Megantic to promote the pipeline.

In a commentary piece published in the Globe and Mail on Sunday, Diana Furchtgott-Roth, a “senior fellow” at the Exxon- and Koch-funded Manhattan Institute writes, 

“After Saturday’s tragedy in Lac-Mégantic, Que., it is time to speed up the approval of new pipeline construction in North America. Pipelines are the safest way of transporting oil and natural gas, and we need more of them, without delay.”

No kidding, Furchgott-Roth wants no more delay in the Keystone XL pipeline, since she has been advocating on behalf of the oil industry in one form or another for more than 25 years, with stints as an economist at the American Petroleum Institute and the oil industry-backed American Enterprise Institute. 

Working for oil company front groups is one thing, but using the tragedy still unfolding in Quebec to argue for more oil pipelines is a whole new level of low.

Mon, 2013-07-08 09:37Steve Horn
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State Department Admits It Doesn't Know Keystone XL's Exact Route

Keystone XL's route is unknown

The State Department's decision to hand over control to the oil industry to evaluate its own environmental performance on the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline has led to a colossal oversight.

Neither Secretary of State John Kerry nor President Barack Obama could tell you the exact route that the pipeline would travel through countless neighborhoods, farms, waterways and scenic areas between Alberta's tar sands and oil refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.

A letter from the State Department denying an information request to a California man confirms that the exact route of the Keystone XL export pipeline remains a mystery, as DeSmog recently revealed.

Generic maps exist on both the
State Department and TransCanada websites, but maps with precise GIS data remain the proprietary information of TransCanada and its chosen oil industry contractors. 

Thomas Bachand, a San Francisco-based photographer, author, and web developer discovered this the hard way. A year and a half after he first filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking the GIS data for his Keystone Mapping Project, Mr. Bachand received a troubling response from the State Department denying his request.

In the letter, the State Department admits that it doesn't have any idea about the exact pipeline route - and that it never asked for the basic mapping data to evaluate the potential impacts of the pipeline. 

Where will KXL intersect rivers or cross ponds that provide drinking water? What prized hunting grounds and fishing holes might be ruined by a spill? How can communities prepare for possible incidents? 

The U.S. State Department seems confident in letting the tar sands industry - led in this instance by TransCanada, whose notorious track record with Keystone 1 includes more than a dozen spills in its first year of operation - place its pipeline wherever it wishes.

“[State] does not have copies of records responsive to your request because the Environmental Impact Statement for the Keystone pipeline project was created by Cardno ENTRIX under a contract financed by TransCanada Keystone Pipeline LP, and not the U.S. government,” reads the State Department's letter denying Bachand's information request.

Neither Cardno ENTRIX nor TransCanada ever submitted GIS information to the Department of State, nor was either corporation required to do so. The information that you request, if it exists, is therefore neither physically nor constructively under the control of the Department of State and we are therefore unable to comply with your FOIA request.”

As Mr. Bachand pointed out in a July 3 blog post: “Without this digital mapping information, the Keystone XL’s Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) and Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) are incomplete and cannot be evaluated for environmental impacts.”

Tue, 2013-07-02 08:00Steve Horn
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Tar Sands Coal Export Boom: Petcoke Exports Second Highest Ever in April

With many eyes honed in on the Powder River Basin coal export battle in the Northwest, another coal export boom is unfolding on the U.S. Gulf Coast. Although no coal production is actually taking place here, a filthy fuel with even more severe climate impacts than coal is leaving port bound for foreign power plants. 

Meet petroleum coke, or “petcoke,” what Oil Change International described in a Jan. 2013 report as “The Coal Hiding in the Tar Sands.” 

Petcoke “is a byproduct of coking, a process that takes very heavy oil and produces gasoil (a precursor to diesel or vacuum gasoil) and naphtha,” Platts explains. “The coke is used as a fuel for power plant, in a kiln in the production of concrete or, for some specialty grades, in the production of aluminum or other metals.”

As relayed by Platts, the Energy Information Agency (EIA) is reporting the U.S. exported the second-highest amount of petroleum coke in U.S. history in AprilEIA's April data show export levels of 17.78 million barrels, second only to Dec. 2011's 20.44 million barrels of petcoke.   

With the tar sands' expansion has come an accompanying petcoke export boom of historical proportion.

“The US exported a record 184.17 million barrels of petroleum coke in 2012, a record up over 20 million barrels compared to 2010,” Platts explained. 

According to the EIA report, China is the current top beneficiary of the U.S. petcoke export boom, importing 3.20 million barrels of petcoke in April, the third most it's ever imported from the U.S.

China imported 4.93 million barrels of petcoke from the U.S. in Dec. 2011 and another 3.64 million barrels in Jan. 2013.

Mon, 2013-07-01 10:36Steve Horn
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Two Major Lawsuits Filed Against ExxonMobil for Arkansas Tar Sands Spill

Two major lawsuits were recently filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas against ExxonMobil, the “private empire” behind the March 2013 Pegasus tar sands pipeline spill of over 1.1 million gallons of diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) into the neighborhoods and waterways of Mayflower, AR, located in Faulkner County

One is a class-action lawsuit filed by the Duncan Firm, Thrash Law Firm and Parker Waichman LLP on June 27. The other is a suit filed on June 13 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in concert with the Arkansas Attorney General's Office, led by AG Dustin McDaniel.

Collectively, both lawsuits lay out the damning facts of the second biggest tar sands pipeline spill in U.S. history, caused by a 22-foot gash in the pipeline, second only to Enbridge's “dilbit disaster” in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The cases also call for the spill's victims - both people, government bodies and the ecosystem - to receive reparations. 

Among other things, both suits clarify that ExxonMobil Pipeline Company dilbit has contaminated Lake Conway, the largest man-made game and fish commission lake*** in the United States, which serves as a tributary of the Arkansas River.

The class-action tort lawsuit slaps ExxonMobil with willful negligence under Arkansas state law, alleging Exxon knew Pegasus - built in the 1940's far before the age of “extreme energy” and designed to carry light crude - would spill at some point. The suit also reveals for the first time that the spill was just the biggest of 13 other spills preceding it, meaning it was not just a spill out of the blue.  

The joint EPA/Arkansas AG civil lawsuit cites Exxon for violating the Clean Water Act, Arkansas' Hazardous Waste Management Act and Arkansas' Water and Air Pollution Control Act.

Taken together, both suits keep the heat on ExxonMobil and on Alberta tar sands production at-large as the battle over the proposed northern half of TransCanada's Keystone XL tar sands pipeline heats up. U.S. President Barack Obama's State Department is expected to make a decision on that pipeline's fate in the next few months. 

Thu, 2013-06-27 14:40Steve Horn
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Obama State Dept. Leaving Citizens in the Dark About Exact Keystone XL Pipeline Route

Keystone XL pipeline unknown route

Believe it or not, the precise route of TransCanada's Keystone XL tar sands pipeline remains shrouded in mystery

Of course, both TransCanada and the U.S. State Department have revealed basic Keystone XL route maps. And those who follow the issue closely know the pipeline would carry Alberta's tar sands diluted bitumen or “dilbit” southward to Port Arthur, TX refineries and then be exported to the global market

But the real path is still a secret: the actual route of KXL is still cloaked in secrecy. Case in point: the travails of Thomas Bachand, Founder and Director of the Keystone Mapping Project.

“I started out wanting to scout the route for a potential photography project. So I went looking for a map, and discovered there wasn’t one,” Bachand explained in a Nov. 2012 interview with National Public Radio. “I went over to the State Department website, and found some great information, but then I discovered there wasn’t any route information.”

His experience with TransCanada was even worse. 

“TransCanada [also gave me] the runaround. Their excuse was that [releasing the information] was a national security risk, which is just a joke.”

Due to lack of transparency on the part of President Barack Obama's State Department and TransCanada, what was once merely an ambitous photo-journalism project has morphed into a full-fledged muckraking effort - and a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request battle royale - that's now lasted about a year and a half for Bachand. The State Department still has yet to give him the goods.  

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.

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