Keystone XL

Tue, 2014-03-18 06:00Sharon Kelly
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A Record Year of Oil Train Accidents Leaves Insurers Wary

Spurred by the shale drilling rush that has progressed at breakneck speed, the railroad industry has moved fast to help drillers transport petroleum and its byproducts to consumers. Last year, trains hauled over 400,000 carloads of crude oil, up from just 9,500 carloads in 2008, according to railroad industry estimates.  Each carload represents roughly 30,000 gallons of flammable liquids, and some trains haul over 100 oil cars at a time.

But with this fast expansion has come some astounding risks — risks that have insurance companies and underwriters increasingly concerned.

A string of oil train explosions have highlighted the potential for harm. A train hauling 2.9 million gallons of Bakken oil derailed and exploded on November 8 in Aliceville, Alabama, and the oil that leaked but did not burn continues to foul the wetlands in the area.

On December 30th, a train collision in Casselton, North Dakota 20 miles outside of Fargo, prompted a mass evacuation of over half the town’s residents after 18 cars exploded into fireballs visible for miles. 400,000 gallons of oil spilled after that accident, which involved two trains traveling well below local speed limits.

Those crashes are all on the radar of the insurance industry,” attorney Dean Hansell recently told Law360.

All told, railcar accidents spilled more than 1.15 million gallons of crude oil in 2013, federal data shows, compared with an average of just 22,000 gallons a year from 1975 through 2012 — a fifty-fold spike.

Sun, 2014-03-16 06:00Ben Jervey
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The "Significance" Trap: New Economic Analysis Finds that Keystone XL Would Increase Tar Sands Production, Carbon Emissions

In its environmental assessment of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, the U.S. State Department severely underestimated the project’s impact on oil production, and the resulting greenhouse gas emissions.

That’s according to a rigorous economic analysis published in a new report by the Carbon Tracker Initiative. Researchers found that, if constructed, the Keystone XL pipeline would increase global greenhouse gas emissions by roughly a whopping 5 gigatons over the course of its lifetime. For some perspective, that’s the equivalent of the annual emissions from 1,400 coal-fired power plants or 1 billion automobiles, according to the report’s authors.

As you may recall, in a speech last June at Georgetown University, President Obama explicitly stated that he would approve the pipeline “only if this project doesn’t significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”

In its recent environmental assessment, the State Department’s suggested that the pipeline is “unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands,” thereby implying that it would pass President Obama’s stated climate test.

However, the Carbon Tracker report, called Keystone XL: The “Significance” Trap (pdf), proves otherwise.

Using the State Department’s own numbers, Carbon Tracker researchers determined that the Keystone XL pipeline, if constructed, would increase the rate of extraction of tar sands, to the tune of roughly 510,000 barrels per day of bitumen (or roughly 730,000 barrels per day of DilBit, after dilution to allow it to flow through the pipeline). As Carbon Tracker researchers put it, “There is over 510kbpd of bitumen production which would benefit from even the narrowest improvement of margins.”

Sat, 2014-03-15 14:37Indra Das
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Debunked: Eight Things the U.S. State Keystone XL Report Got Wrong About the Alberta Oilsands

kris krug oilsands tar sands

Last week the Alberta government responded to the U.S. State Department's final supplemental environmental impact statement (FSEIS) on the Keystone XL project by emphasizing the province's responsibility, transparency, and confidence that the pipeline is in the “national interest” of both Canada and the U.S.

In a statement, Alberta Premier Alison Redford appealed to the relationship between the U.S. and Canada. Premier Redford pointed out that the FSEIS had “recognized the work we're doing to protect the environment,” saying that “the approval of Keystone XL will build upon the deep relationship between our countries and enable further progress toward a stronger, cleaner and more stable North American economy.”

Environment and Sustainable Resource Development Minister Robin Campbell also issued a statement, mentioning Alberta's “strong regulatory system” and “stringent environmental monitoring, regulation and protection legislation.”

Campbell's reminder that the natural resource sector “provides jobs and opportunities for families and communities across the country” was similar to Premier Redford's assurance that “our government is investing in families and communities,” with no mention made of corporate interests.

In order to provide a more specific and sciene-based response to the FSEIS report on Keystone XL, Pembina Institute policy analyst Andrew Read provided counterpoints to several of its central claims.

Thu, 2014-03-13 01:59Steve Horn
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General James Jones Didn't Disclose Industry Ties Before Testimony at Keystone XL Hearing

The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing today (March 13) on the U.S. State Department's national interest determination for the northern half of the proposed TransCanada Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. 

Four witnesses will testify: Keystone XL proponent Karen Alderman Harbert, the president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for 21st Century Energy; retired NASA climatologist James Hansen, an adjunct professor at Columbia University's Earth Institute and Keystone XL opponent; and Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune, another critic of the Keystone XL

And then there's James Jones. He's set to testify on behalf of the pipeline, with his affiliation listed as President of Jones Group International. He won't be testifying at the request of the committee's Democrats, but rather its Republicans, even though he formerly served as national security advisor to President Barack Obama.

Described as offering “high level advisory and consulting services in the areas of international energy policy,” Jones Group — which doesn't list its clients — is far from Jones' only career gig.

A DeSmogBlog investigation has revealed Jones has several oil and gas industry ties that weren't disclosed to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee before the hearing.

Among other ties, BuzzFeed recently revealed Jones currently serves as a consultant for the American Petroleum Institute (API), which has spent over $22 million lobbying on behalf of Keystone XL since 2008. Environmental Resources Management, Inc. (ERM Group) — the contractor chosen by the State Department to conduct the environmental review for the pipeline — is an API member.

Friends of the Earth made a public call to Jones to reveal his client list ahead of his Senate testimony.

“Our representatives in Congress have a right to learn all of the pertinent facts about the Keystone XL pipeline unfiltered by corporate special interests,” reads the letter. “Disclosing all relevant payments from interests advocating for or against the pipeline will help our representatives decide how to balance the competing information they are sure to receive.”

Below are some of Jones' clients, revealed by a DeSmogBlog investigation.

Mon, 2014-03-10 15:58Farron Cousins
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Environmental Review Thrown Out By House Legislation

The U.S. House of Representatives is serious about job creation.  So serious, in fact, that they are willing to sacrifice a healthy environment just so corporations have the “potential” to create new jobs without having to worry about all of that burdensome red tape that so often comes with environmental safety standards.

In a move last week, the House passed the Responsibly and Professionally Invigorating Development Act (RAPID Act – HR 2641), which will put hard deadlines on environmental reviews required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), typically carried out by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 

Republicans in the House claimed that the bill was aimed at preventing the EPA from stalling projects that could create jobs for American citizens.  They said that environmental reviews, which are required by law, can hold projects up for years, and they believe that this is a cost that the economy simply cannot afford.  If signed into law, the bill will limit environmental reviews to a firm 18 months, with only 36 months to complete an environmental impact statement.

The White House indicated that, if the legislation were to reach the President’s desk, he would most certainly veto it.  The Hill quotes the White House as saying; “H.R. 2641 will increase litigation, regulatory delays, and potentially force agencies to approve a project if the review and analysis cannot be completed before the proposed arbitrary deadlines.”

The bill passed the House largely on party lines, with all Republican members and only 12 Democratic members voting in favor.  A provision of the bill will allow projects for which an environmental review could not be completed in time to receive automatic approval.  Democratic Representative Sheila Jackson Lee proposed an amendment to strip this provision of the bill, but it failed to pass.

Another amendment, proposed by Republican Representative David McKinley from West Virginia, specifically prohibits regulatory agencies from considering “social costs of carbon” in their reviews.  This amendment passed and was included in the final bill.

The Republicans are not wrong in claiming that environmental reviews can hold up projects for years, but there are two very good reasons why this happens.

Fri, 2014-03-07 13:51Julie Dermansky
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Whistleblower Evan Voke’s Evidence Against TransCanada Whitewashed By Regulators

Pipeline safety regulators in North America have done nothing but write warning letters to TransCanada in the two years since former employee Evan Vokes revealed evidence indicating the company had been breaking the rules.

A recently released report by the Canadian National Energy Board on TransCanada's integrity management programs stated: “There are areas where the company was found to be out of compliance.” The board gave TransCanada 30 days to come up with a plan to fix things internally.

In response, Vokes released a statement through the advocacy group, Public Citizen stating:

The Canadian government's audit criticizing TransCanada’s failings is a start, but leaves numerous safety concerns unaddressed. An audit based on paper and interviews only cannot catch non-compliance in the field. In my experience, TransCanada’s management failings are systemic and won’t be fixed simply by reviewing what TransCanada says its policies are on paper. These kind of reviews have not fixed the problem in the past and they aren’t sufficient now. Time and again, TransCanada’s internal and third-party audit systems have failed to catch the repeated substandard practice of engineering in the construction and maintenance of its pipelines. Unless regulators in Canada and the United States step up to the plate to ensure compliance in the field, future ruptures and risks to Americans are inevitable.”

The Canadian Senate held hearings in 2013 about the transport of hazardous materials after Vokes went to the media with what he said was proof that TransCanada was breaking the law. During the hearings the National Energy board testified they had verified much of the evidence Vokes provided.

The Senate’s report cites the National Energy Board's conclusion that TransCanada's incidents of non-compliance do not represent immediate threats to the safety of people or the environment. The report notes the board advanced its previously scheduled audit of TransCanada to include the specific concerns raised by Vokes, but recommends no further action.

“The lack of accountability with regulators is appalling,” Vokes told DeSmog Blog. He says he came forward because the oath he took to become an engineer requires him to put public safety first.

Tue, 2014-03-04 09:43Heather Libby
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Enbridge Announces $7B Line 3 Rebuild, Largest Project in Company History

Enbridge Line 3

In its largest capital project in history, Enbridge plans to do what Transcanada so far can't — ship more than half a million barrels of heavy oil across the U.S. border without President Barack Obama's direct approval.

Late Monday evening, Enbridge announced plans for its largest capital project in history— a $7 billion replacement of its Line 3 pipeline.

The existing Line 3 pipeline is part of Enbridge’s extensive Mainline system. The 34-inch pipe was installed in 1968 and currently carries light oil 1,660 km from Edmonton to Superior, Wis. 

While the Line 3 pipeline currently has a maximum shipping capacity of 390,000 barrels of light crude oil per day, pumping stations along the line have a much larger capacity (and can accommodate heavier oils). Enbridge plans to take advantage of this. Under the company's replacement plans, the new Line 3 pipeline will be widened by two inches, and built “using the latest available high-strength steel and coating technology.” By the time it goes into service in 2017, Line 3 will ship 760,000 barrels of oil across the border every day, nearly double what it currently moves. 

Wed, 2014-02-26 15:03Ben Jervey
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WHITEWASH: State Dept Keystone XL Inspector General Report Clears Botched Handling of Environmental Resources Management Conflicts

The State Department's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has finally weighed in on potential conflicts of interest in the environmental assessments of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Sort of.

The office just released its long-anticipated report, capping off an investigation on whether Environmental Resources Management, the contractor hired by TransCanada to conduct the environmental impact study, had too close a relationship with TransCanada, and whether it deliberately hid those ties in filings with the State Department. 

On first look, the inspector general report takes an extremely narrow view of the potential conflicts, but does declare that the department's procedures for dealing with conflicts of interest are weak and need to be improved. 
 

Specifically, from the OIG's findings:

  • OIG did find that the process for documenting the contractor selection process, including the conflict of interest review, can be improved.
  • OIG also found that the Department’s public disclosures concerning its conflict of interest review could be improved.

Finally, the Office of the Inspector General makes these specific recommendations:

  • OIG recommends that the Department’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, in coordination with the Office of the Legal Adviser, enhance its guidance to more fully articulate its selection and conflict of interest review processes.
  • OIG recommends that the Department explain in greater detail the definition of “organizational conflict of interest” relied upon by the Department.
  • OIG recommends that the Department specify in its guidance the documentation required in the contractor selection and conflict of interest processes and establish standard operating procedures to capture and retain this information.
  • OIG recommends that the Department enhance its guidance to integrate a process for public disclosure of

appropriate information.

Attention will now turn to the Government Accountability Office, which will begin an investigation on the State Department's environmental review process. Earlier this week, Representative Raúl Grijalva of Arizona requested a GAO review, suggesting that the Keystone XL environmental assessment has been corrupted by conflicts of interest. “Nothing should be glossed over; nothing should be ignored,” Grijalva said. “The questions that we posed to GAO had to do with the State Department process. And if this is a tainted process, I suggest the president at that point shouldn't trust that information,”

DeSmogBlog will take a closer look at all the details in the report and update this post throughout the evening. 

Wed, 2014-02-26 12:26Indra Das
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U.S. EPA Denied Late Participation in Kinder Morgan Hearings, Exposes Shortcomings of New NEB Process

Kinder Morgan trans mountain Pipeline

The Canadian National Energy Board (NEB) rejected a request this month from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to extend the deadline to apply as a participant in the public hearings on Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain oil pipeline expansion.

The EPA was unaware of a February 12 deadline to apply as a participant in hearings on the proposed $5.4 million expansion of the Vancouver-to-Edmonton Trans Mountain pipeline, which would increase its capacity from 300,000 barrels per day (bpd) of diluted bitumen to 890,000 bpd.

The pipeline expansion, which is supported by 13 oil companies, will free the flow of landlocked Albertan oil to Asian markets overseas.

The EPA reportedly needed more time to “follow through with agency protocols and procedures” before applying to take part in the hearings, according to a notice filed with the NEB.

Wed, 2014-02-26 11:46Ben Jervey
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Keystone PipeLIES Exposed: New Film from Center for Media and Democracy

On Tuesday, the Center for Media and Democracy released a new short film that sets out to debunk the many false claims — the films calls them “pipeLIES” — used by promoters of the Keystone XL pipeline. These industry talking points, many of which are repeated without verification by mainstream media sources, have corrupted any reasonable public discourse on the pipeline, and the film's producers hope that using the video medium to expose the mistruths will lead to better public understanding of the true risks of the pipelines. 

The film, Keystone PipeLIES Exposed, takes a close and critical look at both ends of the proposed pipeline — from the open pit tar sands mines in Alberta to the toxic refineries in Port Arthur, Texas. But the meat of the 23-minute film looks at the pipeline itself — the route, the construction jobs, the spill risks, the communities and ecosystems that would be made vulnerable.

While traveling down the pipeline, so to speak, the film pays special attention to the talking points and falsehoods — the massively inflated job creation claims, promises of lower gas prices, and so on — that are constantly repeated by those who stand to profit from the pipeline's construction, and often by a mainstream media too lazy to verify them. 

Emmy Award-winning journalist Dave Saldana wrote, directed and produced the film. Saldana is also an attorney, and says this background was particularly useful in exploring and debunking many of the oil industry's suspicious claims. Saldana says:

I looked at the claims as a lawyer; what did the evidence show me? The evidence shows that its job creation claims are grossly inflated; that better, greener alternatives would aid America's energy independence and put more Americans to work for a longer time than the pipeline; and that the pumping of tar sands oil across the U.S. primarily for export to foreign countries poses enormous risks to America's water supply, food supply, and air quality. And that’s before you even get to what it does to climate change.”

Here's the film. You can also check out the PipeLIES Exposed site to find references for all the arguments debunking the lies. 

Keystone PipeLIES Exposed from Center for Media and Democracy on Vimeo.

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