Keystone XL

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 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 16:19Don Lieber
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Obama’s Climate Double Standard: Keystone and Fracking

President Obama, during his climate speech last week, surprised many observers by his unexpected remarks about the Keystone XL pipeline.   The President, for the first time, placed a clear condition on the pipeline’s approval – its impact on the climate. 

 “The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward” he said, calling on the United States to |lead international efforts to combat a changing climate.”  

Later in the speech, Mr. Obama spoke in favor of the increased use of natural gas as a 'transition fuel' and called on the United States to “strengthen our position as the top natural gas producer because, in the medium term at least, it not only can provide safe, cheap power, but it can also help reduce our carbon emissions.” 

In a speech focused entirely on climate change, however, these two positions - placing climate change conditions on one fossil-fuel (tar sands oil) project while ignoring the climate implications (indeed touting the merits) of another fossil fuel industry (natural gas) – contradict each other and call into question Mr. Obama’s pledges, “as President, as a father, and as an American,” to take meaningful action on climate change.

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.  

Sun, 2013-06-16 12:04Mike Gaworecki
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How Much Did Seven House Votes Pushing Keystone XL Cost Taxpayers?

News broke recently that the 37 House votes to repeal Obamacare cost taxpayers $55 million. The House has voted for Keystone XL eight times, and Oil Change International says the House members who voted for it took six times as much money from the oil industry as their colleagues who voted against. Those votes cost Big Oil $36 million. How much did they cost us, the taxpayers?

Turns out it’s pretty much impossible to calculate the cost of any House activity. The Congressional Research Service refuses to offer estimates, calling it “methodologically impossible.”

The $55 million figure for the Obamacare repeal votes is extrapolated from a number in a CBS report from last year, on the occasion of the House Republicans’ 33rd vote to repeal Obamacare, and Politifact says it is so rough an estimate that it amounts to a false claim.

But let’s play anyway!

Thu, 2013-06-13 20:29Steve Horn
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Keystone XL Activists Labeled Possible Eco-Terrorists in Internal TransCanada Documents

Documents recently obtained by Bold Nebraska show that TransCanada - owner of the hotly-contested Keystone XL (KXL) tar sands pipeline - has colluded with an FBI/DHS Fusion Center in Nebraska, labeling non-violent activists as possible candidates for “terrorism” charges and other serious criminal charges.

Further, the language in some of the documents is so vague that it could also ensnare journalists, researchers and academics, as well. 

TransCanada also built a roster of names and photos of specific individuals involved in organizing against the pipeline, including 350.org's Rae Breaux, Rainforest Action Network's Scott Parkin and Tar Sands Blockade's Ron Seifert. Further, every activist ever arrested protesting the pipeline's southern half is listed by name with their respective photo shown, along with the date of arrest.

It's PSYOPs-gate and “fracktivists” as “an insurgency” all over again, but this time it's another central battleground that's in play: the northern half of KXL, a proposed border-crossing pipeline whose final fate lies in the hands of President Barack Obama.

The southern half of the pipeline was approved by the Obama Admin. via a March 2013 Executive OrderTogether, the two pipeline halves would pump diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) south from the Alberta tar sands toward Port Arthur, TX, where it will be refined and shipped to the global export market.

Activists across North America have put up a formidable fight against both halves of the pipeline, ranging from the summer 2011 Tar Sands Action to the ongoing Tar Sands Blockade. Apparently, TransCanada has followed the action closely, given the level of detail in the documents.

Mon, 2013-06-10 08:36Jeff Gailus
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Greenwashing the Tar Sands, Part 3: Wherein money trumps fact every time

This is last installment of a three-part series on greenwashing and the tar sands. Be sure to read Part 1, A Short History of Greenwashing the Tar Sands, and Part 2, Do As I Say, Not As I Do.

Recently, Canadian Oil Sands Chief Executive Officer Marcel Coutu explained to Bloomberg why he and other big shot oil executives have been lobbying U.S. politicians so hard for the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would ferry more than 800,000 barrels of tar sands crude to the Gulf Coast. Coutu had participated in a Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) lobbying junket in February, and another trip is being planned for this month.

The first reason is money. The Keystone XL pipeline is a vital component of the tar sands industry’s plans. Without it, it will be hard for Big Oil to double production of tar sands crude by 2020. With no way to transport the extra crude to markets in the U.S. and beyond, there would be no point in spending all that money to turn bitumen into a crude form of oil. This, Coutu said, has had a chilling effect on investment and share prices.

Canadian Oil Sands shares have risen just two per cent this year, while Cenovus’ have fallen seven percent and Imperial Oil’s are down 6.2 percent. Keystone XL, says Todd Kepler, a Calgary-based oil and gas analyst at Cormark Securities, would increase share prices for oil producers by as much as 20 per cent.

That's a big deal worth millions of dollars.

Fri, 2013-06-07 09:42Sharon Kelly
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New Documents in West Virginia Coal Lawsuit Shine Light on Judicial Corruption Allegations

“Extreme by any measure.” Those four words were used by the U.S. Supreme Court in a landmark 2009 decision to describe judicial corruption and corporate influence in the West Virginia courts.

That opinion by the nation’s highest court famously reversed the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals justices who had thrown out a lawsuit against a major coal company and represented an unusually forceful reprimand of a lower court. It also symbolized a turning point for a state where coal has been king for much of the past two hundred years.

Another decision — one levied last month by the Supreme Court in neighboring Virginia — has garnered far less attention but marks yet a further blemish on West Virginia and it highlights the role that coal continues to play in politics and law in that state.

The little-noticed decision handed down by the Virginia court was a major setback to one of the coal industry's kingpins, Don Blankenship, the former CEO of Massey Energy. For over a quarter of a century, Mr. Blankenship was the guiding figure and intellectual architect behind his company’s obliteration of the United Mine Workers union and the coal industry's wholesale shift toward a relatively new and environmentally-ruinous form of mining called mountaintop removal, which essentially involves blowing off the top of mountains to reveal the coal seams underneath.

Mon, 2013-06-03 18:54Steve Horn
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Dirty Details: Dents, Faulty Welds Found Along Keystone XL Southern Half in Texas

If an ecologically hazardous accident happens to TransCanada's Keystone XL (KXL) tar sands pipeline, we can't say we weren't forewarned. That's the latest from a press release and YouTube video recently disseminated by the good government group, Public Citizen

Public Citizen's Texas office explained, “Dozens of anomalies, including dents and welds, reportedly have been identified along a 60-mile stretch of the southern segment of the Keystone XL pipeline, north of the Sabine River in Texas.”

A recent report appearing in The Houston Chronicle revealed KXL's southern half is over 75-percent complete and will be on-line by late-2013. That half of the pipeline brings tar sands - also known as diluted bitumen, or “dilbit” - from Cushing, OK (dubbed the “pipeline cross-roads of the world”) down to Port Arthur, TX, where it ends up exported to the global market.

KXL's northern half is still in its proposal phase. Its eventual fate sits entirely in the hands of President Barack Obama and his U.S. State Department because it's a border-crossing pipeline. In March 2012, President Obama issued an Executive Order for expediting building of KXL's southern half.

Earlier this year, Tar Sands Blockade - a group committed to creative non-violent direct action to stop the building of KXL's southern half - also detected defective welding in the pipeline, akin go that discovered by Public Citizen. The group did so when one of its activists went inside of the pipeline and discovered light seeping through it.  

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