State Department

Keystone XL Decision Highlights Coziness Between Oil and Gas Industry, Obama Administration

This past week was good to the oil and gas industry. First, President Obama talked up jobs gains from drilling and labeled natural gas a “bridge fuel” in his State of the Union address, using terminology favored by natural gas advocates.

Then, on Friday, the Obama administration released a much-awaited assessment of the Keystone XL pipeline’s environmental impacts which concluded that pipeline construction “remains unlikely to  significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands,” effectively turning a blind eye to the staggering carbon emissions from tar sands extraction and expansion plans.

While Mr. Obama’s warm embrace of fossil fuels surprised some environmentalists, it should come as little surprise in light of prior comments made by the CEO of the American Petroleum Institute (API).

“It's our expectation it will be released next week,” Jack Gerard confidently told Reuters, referring to the Keystone XL assessment, while many were still speculating that the report might not be issued until after the November mid-term election. “We're expecting to hear the same conclusion that we've heard four times before: no significant impact on the environment.”

Mr. Gerard added that these predictions were based on sources within the administration.

In fact, as the Keystone decision-making process has unfolded, the oil and gas industry has had — as they’ve enjoyed for decades — intensive access to decision-making in the White House.  This access has helped form the Obama administration’s schizophrenic energy policy, in which the President backs both renewable energy and fossil fuels without acknowledging that the two are competitors. When fossil fuels gain market share, renewables lose.

While even the World Bank has called for immediate action on climate change, the API, which has worked hard to shape Obama’s views on fossil fuels, has also worked to create doubt around the very concept of fossil-fuel-driven climate change and to downplay the impact their industry has had.

There’s no question that the oil and gas industry wields enormous sway inside Washington D.C.

The API has spent $9.3 million dollars this year alone on reportable lobbying expenses, the highest amount in the group’s history, according to data from OpenSecrets.org. This summer, a DeSmog investigation found that API spent $22.03 million dollars lobbying at the federal level on Keystone XL and/or tar sands issues since June 2008, when the pipeline project was first proposed.

State Department Releases Flawed Keystone XL Final Environmental Review In Super Bowl Friday Trash Dump

The State Department has released the Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for the proposed northern leg of the controversial and long-embattled TransCanada Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

In a familiar “Friday trash dump” — a move many expected the Obama administration to shun — John Kerry's State Department chose to “carefully stage-manage the report's release” on Super Bowl Friday when most Americans are switching focus to football instead of political scandals. **See bottom of this post for breaking analysis**

Anticipating the report’s release, insiders who had been briefed on the review told Bloomberg News the SEIS – not a formal decision by the State Department on the permitting of the pipeline, but rather another step in the department’s information gathering – “will probably disappoint environmental groups and opponents of the Keystone pipeline.”

And, indeed, the new report reads“Approval or denial of any one crude oil transport project, including the proposed Project, remains unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands, or the continued demand for heavy crude oil at refineries in the United States.”

This reiterates one of the earlier draft’s most heavily criticized conclusions that the pipeline is “unlikely to have a substantial impact on the rate of development in the oil sands,” and thus avoids a comprehensive assessment of those climate impacts.

In June 2013, President Obama said in a speech announcing his Climate Action Plan at Georgetown University that he would only approve the permit if it was proven that “this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”  

The final environmental review is being released on the heels of damning revelations about the close ties between the Canadian pipeline builder, TransCanada and Environmental Resources Management (ERM). ERM was hired by the State Department to conduct the environmental review.

Obama Approves Major Border-Crossing Fracked Gas Pipeline Used to Dilute Tar Sands

Although TransCanada's Keystone XL tar sands pipeline has received the lion's share of media attention, another key border-crossing pipeline benefitting tar sands producers was approved on November 19 by the U.S. State Department.

Enter Cochin, Kinder Morgan's 1,900-mile proposed pipeline to transport gas produced via the controversial hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) of the Eagle Ford Shale basin in Texas north through Kankakee, Illinois, and eventually into Alberta, Canada, the home of the tar sands. 

Like Keystone XL, the pipeline proposal requires U.S. State Department approval because it crosses the U.S.-Canada border. Unlike Keystone XL - which would carry diluted tar sands diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) south to the Gulf Coast - Kinder Morgan's Cochin pipeline would carry the gas condensate (diluent) used to dilute the bitumen north to the tar sands.

“The decision allows Kinder Morgan Cochin LLC to proceed with a $260 million plan to reverse and expand an existing pipeline to carry an initial 95,000 barrels a day of condensate,” the Financial Post wrote

“The extra-thick oil is typically cut with 30% condensate so it can move in pipelines. By 2035, producers could require 893,000 barrels a day of the ultra-light oil, with imports making up 786,000 barrels of the total.”

Increased demand for diluent among Alberta's tar sands producers has created a growing market for U.S. producers of natural gas liquids, particularly for fracked gas producers.

“Total US natural gasoline exports reached a record volume of 179,000 barrels per day in February as Canada's thirst for oil sand diluent ramped up,” explained a May 2013 article appearing in Platts. ”US natural gasoline production is forecast to increase to roughly 450,000 b/d by 2020.”

George W. Bush on Keystone XL: "Build the Damn Thing"

Make private companies happy. Don’t worry about the environment. Stop fretting about long-term sustainability. Forget renewables, property concerns, the safety of our water and air. Make private companies happy.

This was the 43rd president's message to the current administration at the DUG East conference held by the shale gas industry on Thursday.

With characteristic bluntness, George W. Bush spoke his mind on energy policy to several thousand oil and gas executives gathered in Pittsburgh at an exclusive luncheon on Wednesday.

“I think the goal of the country ought to be 'how do we grow the private sector?'” Mr. Bush said. “That ought to be the laser-focus of any administration. And therefore, once that’s the goal, an issue like Keystone pipeline becomes a no-brainer.”

“If private sector growth is the goal and Keystone pipeline creates 20,000 new private sector jobs, build the damn thing,” Mr. Bush said, prompting a burst of applause from the more than 4,000 oil and gas executives attending the conference.

In his candor, Mr. Bush also highlighted the essence of what burns bright but short in the fossil-fuel doctrine.

In emphasizing a get-it-now, don’t-worry-about-the-future approach to energy, he drove home why the Keystone XL pipeline has become such a lightning rod issue. The reason: it is symbolic of the overall short-sightedness of increasing our long-term addiction to oil rather than pushing with urgency toward renewable energy.

Obama's Former Communications Director Anita Dunn Pitches "Ethical Oil" Keystone XL Ad

Ezra Levant is the man behind an attempt to re-frame the Alberta tar sands as “ethical oil.” “Ethical” - Levant's deceptive public relations campaign argues of the tar sands “carbon bomb” - because it doesn't come from the war-ridden and human rights-abusing Middle East. 

Now, the “ethical oil” campaign has a new backer: Anita Dunn, former White House Communications Director for President Barack Obama and current Principal of SKDKnickerbocker, a public relations firm with offices in Washington, D.C.; New York City and Albany.

SKDK - as covered here on multiple occasions by DeSmogBlog - does PR for Transcanada, the company behind the controversial Keystone XL tar sands export pipeline. Transcanada has paid SKDK - and by extension, Dunn - to place ads in strategic television and radio markets in the Washington, D.C. area. 

America imports millions of barrels of oil from the Middle East every week,” a narrator says in an ominous tone in the most recent ad, as images of violent protests in the Middle East blare across the screen. “But we don’t have to.”

The T.V. ad then switches to serene music and landscape views with pipeline stretched across it, alluding to “ethical oil” coming from Canada if the northern half of Transcanada's Keystone XL pipeline is approved by both the U.S. State Department and President Barack Obama.

The radio ad - also singing the “ethical oil” tune - claims that building the northern half of the Keystone XL will create “over 40,000 good American jobs.” Independent studies point to it creating 35 full-time jobs and 3,950 temporary construction jobs

The New York Times explained that Transcanada paid Dunn and SKDK to place the “ethical oil“-style ad “to reach power players in Washington’s media market.”

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.   

Controversial State Department Keystone XL Climate Study the Basis of David Petraeus' CUNY Seminar

Former CIA-head David Petraeus' City University of New York (CUNY) Macaulay Honors College seminar readings include several prominent Big Oil-funded “frackademia” studies, a recent DeSmogBlog investigation revealed.

Further digging into records obtained via New York's Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) also reveals “a survey of the global economy to set the stage for the course” - as stated in an email from Petraeus to an unknown source due to redaction - utilizes the U.S. State Department's Keystone XL environmental review written by Environmental Resources Management (ERM Group) to argue that Transcanada's tar sands export pipeline deserves approval.

“[Redacted], atttached is a document that my Harvard researchers and I put together for the seminar I'll lead at Macaulay Honors College of CUNY,” wrote Petraeus in the email. “It is intended to be a survey of the global economy to set the stage for the course…[It] will have considerable value, I think, for the undergrads in the course.”

The “Global Economy” survey was penned on behalf of Petraeus by Vivek Chilukuri, one of Petraeus' researchers at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Public Policy, where Petraeus sits as a Non-Resident Fellow. Chilukuri serves as Editor-in-Chief for the Harvard Journal of Middle Eastern Politics & Policy, and worked for Obama for America before the 2008 election. 

It was at the Harvard Kennedy School where all of Petraeus' troubles began. His biographer, Paula Broadwell, whom he had an affair with, met Petraeus while a Harvard graduate student, a scandal that ultimately drove him out of the CIA.

His CIA departure landed Petraeus his current gigs on Wall Street at Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR) and as an adjunct professor at CUNY Honors College and University of Southern California - and coming full circle - back at Harvard, where the spool began to unravel. 

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.  

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.”

Could NAFTA Force Keystone XL On United States?

As the public anxiously awaits the U.S. State Department’s final decision on the fate of the Keystone XL Pipeline, the discussion has largely ignored the elephant in the room: the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA.)

Thanks to NAFTA, signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994, the State Department will likely be able to do little more than stall the pipeline’s construction. In its simplest form, NAFTA removes barriers for North American countries wishing to do business in or through other North American countries, including environmental barriers. The goal of the agreement was to promote intra-continental commerce and help the economies of all involved in the agreement.

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