Keystone XL

Thu, 2013-05-30 03:00Steve Horn
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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.”

Fri, 2013-05-24 05:00Caroline Selle
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Is Houston a Tar Sands “Sacrifice Zone”?

This is a guest post by Caroline Selle

Much of the debate around the Keystone XL pipeline has focused on the dangers of extracting and transporting the tar sands. Left out, however, are those in the United States who are
guaranteed to feel the impacts of increased tar sands usage. Spill or no spill, anyone living near a tar sands refinery will bear the burden of the refining process.

Tar sands oil is produced from a mixture of sand, clay, water, and the sticky, peanut-butter like form of petroleum known as bitumen. Unlike conventional crude, it’s essentially solid at room temperature, has a higher heavy metal content, and has to be diluted for transport. The diluents are trade secrets, and the content mixture - which often contains benzene, a human carcinogen - isn’t something companies are required to report.

DeSmogBlog has covered the impacts of tar sands extraction on indigenous communities, and the dangers of moving tar sands through a network of pipelines is aptly covered here. And while major nonprofits have completed studies on the dangers of transporting tar sands, there is significantly less information available on how refining tar sands differs from processing conventional crude.

Additional heavy metals and benzene might sound like a recipe for disaster anywhere, but the location of several major tar sands refineries is already overburdened with pollutants. In Harris County, Texas – home to the city of Houston – people are already surrounded by refineries and factories spewing toxic pollution into the air. And as the southern leg of the Keystone XL project slowly fills in its missing pieces, the spectre of toxic bitumen looms.

Thu, 2013-05-23 08:00Indra Das
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Harper Government Keeps Details Of $16.5M Oil Industry Ad Campaign Under Wraps

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver

This week, under questioning from opposition MPs, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver confirmed that his department intends to spend up to 16.5 million dollars on advertising in the upcoming year. Further details on how this taxpayer-funded PR campaign for Canada's natural resources will be run were lacking.

Mike De Souza writes for Canada.com, that Oliver “also declined to provide specifics on a training program, worth up to $500,000, for his department's scientists and other officials, 'designed to help them communicate with the public and to do so in a way that is accessible to the public.'”

Speaking to a special committee studying spending estimates in the House of Commons on Tuesday evening, Oliver confirmed that much of the advertising would be focused on promoting the proposed TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline linking Albertan tar sands oil to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast.

Mon, 2013-05-13 15:05Farron Cousins
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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.

Fri, 2013-05-03 04:30Steve Horn
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Obama's Former Communications Director's Firm Does PR For Keystone XL Pipeline, Tar Sands Rail Transport

Double-dipping is a “no go” in the real world of eating chips and salsa with a circle of friends but an everyday reality in the world of lobbyists and PR professionals. 

Enter double-dipper Anita Dunn, former White House Communications Director for President Barack Obama who now runs the firm SKDKnickerbocker (Squier Knapp Dunn), a firm that “brings unparalleled strategic communications experience to Fortune 500 companies, political groups and candidates, non-profits, and labor organizations.”

Dip one: TransCanada Corporation, which SKDK does public relations work foras revealed in an Oct. 2012 New York Times investigation. TransCanada is the multinational corporation currently building the contentious southern half of the Keystone XL (KXL) tar sands pipeline, following the dictates of a March 2012 Obama Administration Executive Order. Within months, the fate of the border-crossing Alberta to Port Arthur, TX KXL export pipeline will also likely be decided by the U.S. State Department.

Dip two: Another SKDKnickerbocker client is the Association of American Railroads (AAR), the American Petroleum Institute trade association equivalent for the freight rail industry. Even without KXL - as covered previously on DeSmogBlog - tar sands crude can be moved to targeted markets via freight rail (coupled with pipeline capacity increases of other tubes and potential barging along Lake Superior).

Beneficiaries of tar sands transport via rail include AAR dues-paying member Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF), owned by major Obama donor Warren Buffett via his holding company, Berkshire Hathaway. Shell Oil - a major Alberta tar sands extractor - also pays AAR member dues, which indicates Big Oil understands the strategic importance of rail transport.   

Dunn's firm, in short, stands to gain from tar sands extraction with or without a KXL northern half, a classic case of double-dipping.

Thu, 2013-05-02 05:00Steve Horn
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Keystone Kops: TransCanada Spent $280,000 Lobbying For Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline In First Quarter

TransCanada, the multinational corporation hoping to build the controversial northern half of the Keystone XL pipeline, spent over $280,000 on lobbying the U.S. government in the first quarter (Q1) of 2013, according to lobbying disclosure records.

In addition to the $250,000 paid to Paul Elliott - TransCanada's infamous in-house lobbyist and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's national deputy campaign manager during her 2008 run for president - three outside firms lobbied on TransCanada's behalf to promote KXL.

The outside firms: Bryan Cave LLP, which reported $20,000 in earnings from TransCanda in 
Q1; McKenna, Long & Aldridge, which was paid $10,000 by TransCanada during Q1; and Van Ness Feldman, which TransCanada paid an amount under $5,000, falling under the mandatory reporting ceiling.

$280,000 is a tiny drop in the bucket compared to TransCanada's $446 million first quarter profits.

The southern half of Keystone XL is currently under construction due to a March 2012 Obama Adminstration Executive Order. The northern half is still in the proposal phase. It would carry Alberta tar sands dilbit to the Gulf Coast refineries in Port Arthur, Texas, where much of it would be exported to the global market.

As seen in an earlier investigation conducted by DeSmogBlog, many of TransCanada's lobbyists for KXL have direct ties to the Obama administration. The U.S. State Department has been tasked with the final decision on the pipeline's cross-border northern section, a risky conduit between the carbon intensive Alberta tar sands and further global climate disruption.

Tue, 2013-04-23 15:37Ben Jervey
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EPA Again Slams State Department's Keystone XL Assessment as "Insufficient"

On Monday, the State Department’s public comment period closed for the Keystone XL pipeline draft environmental impact statement. Over one million comments were submitted by citizens opposed to the tar sands pipeline. Then came the most damning comment of them all: from the Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA submitted a letter faulting the State Department’s environmental review of the Keystone XL pipeline for being “insufficient” and raising “Environmental Objections” to the project.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because the very same thing happened roughly two years ago, when the State Department was first assessing the proposed tar sands pipeline project.

In June of 2011, the EPA first wrote to criticize the draft environmental impact statement as “insufficient.”

That EPA letter certainly played a part – as did sustained grassroots advocacy efforts, exposes on conflicts of interest between State and the pipeline’s profiteers, and relentless debunking of false jobs and energy security promises – in the State Department’s move to punt the decision for a year, take a fresh look at the proposals, and go back to the drawing board to create a new supplemental environmental impact statement.

Thu, 2013-04-18 13:00Caroline Selle
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New Report, “Cooking the Books,” Highlights State Department’s Keystone XL Miscalculations

Cooking the Books Oil Change International

This is a guest post by Caroline Selle

A new report from Oil Change International, provides new evidence that, if built, the Keystone XL pipeline will have a devastating impact on the global climate.

The major findings of Cooking the Books: How the State Department Analysis Ignores The True Climate Impact of the Keystone XL Pipeline include:

• If constructed and operated as planned, the Keystone XL will “carry and emit at least 181 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) each year.”

• The Keystone XL would result in emissions of 6.34 billion metric tons of CO2e between 2015 and 2050.

To put those numbers in context, here are some additional figures. 181 million metric tons of CO2 is equivalent to the tailpipe emissions of more than 37.7 million cars. It’s also the equivalent of half of Spain’s total CO2 emissions for 2008, when Spain was the 19th highest emitting country in the world.

6.34 billion metric tons of CO2 is greater than the 2011 total annual carbon dioxide emissions of the United States. It’s also greater than the 2008 CO2 emissions of Russia, India, Japan, Canada, and Germany combined.

Thu, 2013-04-18 11:05Ben Jervey
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Yet More Proof That Keystone XL Won't Reduce Gas Prices

There are four days left to submit a public comment to the State Department on the Keystone XL pipeline. As we’ve reported time and time again here on DeSmogBlog, the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would not improve America’s energy security as proponents of the pipeline insist. Nor would completion of the pipeline reduce gas prices here in America, another common claim.

Over a year ago, when the State Department was turning down TransCanada’s first bid, we took a look at why and how Keystone XL wouldn’t reduce gas prices here in the U.S.

This week, Public Citizen released a report that piles on a whole lot more evidence to support this fact. In fact, it makes a rock solid economic case that construction of the pipeline would almost certainly result in an increase in gas prices in the American Midwest. An increase

For the report, titled “America Can’t Afford the Keystone Pipeline” (PDF download here), Public Citizen analyzed an abundance of data and found that average U.S. gas prices over the past year would have been as much as 3.5-percent lower had there not been any exports of oil. Because Keystone XL would primarily be an export pipeline (as we’ve reported again and again, and as Canadian Energy Minister Ken Hughes has recently admitted), all evidence points to the fact that construction of the pipeline would actually increase gas prices.

Here’s a quick rundown of the report’s main takeaways.

Sat, 2013-04-13 05:30Steve Horn
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Arkansas Hires Notorious Private Contractor To Clean Up Mayflower Tar Sands Spill, Same Firm Also Contracted For KXL

Arkansas' Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has contracted out the “independent analysis of the cleanup” of the ExxonMobil Pegasus tar sands pipeline spill to Witt O'Brien's, a firm with a history of oil spill cover-ups, a DeSmogBlog investigation reveals. 

At his April 10 press conference about the Mayflower spill response, AG McDaniel confirmed that Exxon had turned over 12,500 pages of documents to his office resulting from a subpoena related to Exxon's response to the March 29 Pegasus disaster. A 22-foot gash in the 65-year-old pipeline spewed over 500,000 gallons of tar sands dilbit through the streets of Mayflower, AR

McDaniel also provided the media with a presser explaining that his office had “retained the assistance of Witt O’Brien’s, a firm whose experts will immediately begin an independent analysis of the cleanup process.” 

Witt O'Brien's describes itself as a “global leader in preparedness, crisis management and disaster response and recovery with the depth of experience and capability to provide services across the crisis and disaster life cycle.”

But the firm's actual performance record isn't quite so glowing. O'Brien's has had its hands in the botched clean-up efforts of almost every high-profile oil spill disaster in recent U.S. history, including the Exxon Valdez spill, the BP Deepwater Horizon spill, the Enbridge tar sands pipeline spill into the Kalamazoo River, and Hurricane Sandy. 

Most troubling of all, Witt O'Brien's won a “$300k+ contract to develop a Canadian-US compliant Oil Spill Emergency Response Plan for TransCanada’s Keystone Oil Pipeline Project” in Aug. 2008.

Thus, if the Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline inevitably suffered a major spill, Witt O'Brien's would presumably handle the cleanup. That should worry everyone along the proposed KXL route.

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