At least 75 per cent of known fossil fuel reserves must remain in the ground to avoid catastrophic climate change, but not only are fossil fuel...
Alex MacLean is one of America’s most famed and iconic aerial photographers. His perspective on human structures, from bodies sunbathing at the beach to complex, overlapping highway systems, always seems to hint at a larger symbolic meaning hidden in the mundane. By photographing from above, MacLean shows the sequences and patterns of human activity, including the scope of our impact on natural systems. His work reminds us of the law of proximity: the things closest to us are often the hardest to see.
Recently MacLean traveled to the Alberta oilsands in western Canada. There, working with journalist Dan Grossman, MacLean used his unique eye to capture some new and astounding images of one of the world’s largest industrial projects. Their work, funded by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, will form part of a larger, forthcoming report for GlobalPost.
DeSmog Canada caught up with MacLean to ask him about his experience photographing one of Canada’s most politicized resources and the source of the proposed Keystone XL and Northern Gateway pipelines.
On June 6, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit handed down a ruling that will serve as important precedent for the ongoing federal legal battles over the Keystone XL and Flanagan South tar sands pipelines.
In the Delaware Riverkeeper v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) case, judges ruled that a continuous pipeline project cannot be segmented into multiple parts to avoid a comprehensive National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review. This is what Kinder Morgan proposed and did for its Northeast Upgrade Project.
As reported on DeSmogBlog, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did the same thing to streamline permitting for both the southern leg of TransCanada's Keystone XL and Enbridge's Flanagan South. Sierra Club and co-plaintiffs were denied injunctions for both pipelines in October and November 2013, respectively.
Delaware Riverkeeper v. FERC dealt with breaking up a new 40-mile long pipeline upgrade into four segments. For the other two cases, the Army Corps of Engineers shape-shifted the two projects — both hundreds of miles long each — into thousands of “single and complete” projects for permitting purposes.
On the day of the Delaware Riverkeeper v. FERC decision, Sierra Club attorney Doug Hayes submitted the case as supplemental authority for the ongoing Flanagan South case.
Hayes told DeSmogBlog his side will file an opening brief for the appeal on July 30. It seems likely Delaware Riverkeeper v. FERC will be a key part of that appeal.
In a sign of the importance of the outcome for the oil and gas industry, the American Petroleum Institute (API) entered the Sierra Club v. Army Corps of Engineers case on Keystone XL as an intervenor on May 16, represented by corporate law firm Hunton & Williams.
Heather Zichal, former Obama White House Deputy Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change, may soon walk out of the government-industry revolving door to become a member of the board of directors for fracked gas exports giant Cheniere, who nominated her to serve on the board.
The announcement, made through Cheniere's U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Form 8-K and its Schedule 14A, comes just as a major class-action lawsuit was filed against the board of the company by stockholders.
In reaction to the lawsuit, Cheniere has delayed its annual meeting. At that meeting, the company's stockholders will vote on the Zichal nomination.
The class-action lawsuit was filed by plaintiff and stockholder James B. Jones, who alleges the board gave stock awards to CEO Charif Souki in defiance of both a stockholders' vote and the company's by-laws.
Souki — a central character in Gregory Zuckerman's book “The Frackers“ — became the highest paid CEO in the U.S. as a result of the maneuver, raking in $142 million in 2013, $133 million of which came from stock awards.
Cheniere CEO Charif Souki; Photo Credit: Getty Images
Among the audit committee duties: “Prepare and review the audit committee report for inclusion in the proxy statement for the company's annual meeting of stockholders,” which is now set for September 11 after the push-back following the filing of the stockholder class-action lawsuit.
“The audit committee’s responsibility is oversight, and it recognizes that the company’s management is responsible for preparing the company’s financial statements and complying with applicable laws and regulations,” Cheniere's audit committee charter further explains.
The pipeline system does what Keystone XL and the Keystone Pipeline System at large is designed to do: ship hundreds of thousands of barrels per day of Alberta's tar sands diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) to both Gulf Coast refineries in Port Arthur, Texas, and the global export market.
Alberta Clipper and Line 67 expansion
Alberta Clipper was approved by President Barack Obama and the U.S. State Department (legally required because it is a border-crossing pipeline like Keystone XL) in August 2009 during congressional recess. Clipper runs from Alberta to Superior, Wis.
Map Credit: U.S. Department of State
Initially slated to carry 450,000 barrels per day of dilbit to market, Enbridge now seeks an expansion permit from the State Department to carry up to 570,000 barrels per day, with a designed capacity of 800,000 barrels per day. It has dubbed the expansion Line 67.
As reported on previously by DeSmogBlog, Line 67 is the key connecter pipeline to Line 6A, which feeds into the BP Whiting refinery located near Chicago, Ill., in Whiting, Ind. BP Whiting — the largest in-land refinery in the U.S. — was recently retooled to refine larger amounts of tar sands under the Whiting Refinery Modernization Project.
Last December, the first full train carrying tar sands crude left the Canexus Bruderheim terminal outside of Edmonton, Alberta, bound for an unloading terminal somewhere in the United States.
Canadian heavy crude, as the tar sands is labeled for market purposes, had ridden the rails in very limited capacity in years previous — loaded into tank cars and bundled with other products as part of so-called “manifest” shipments. But to the best of industry analysts’ knowledge, never before had a full 100-plus car train (called a “unit train”) been shipped entirely full of tar sands crude.
Because unit trains travel more quickly, carry higher volumes of crude and cost the shipper less per barrel to operate than the manifest alternative, this first shipment from the Canexus Bruderheim terminal signaled the start of yet another crude-by-rail era — an echo of the sudden rise of oil train transport ushered in by the Bakken boom, on a much smaller scale (for now).
This overall spike in North American crude-by-rail over the past few years has been well documented, and last month Oil Change International released a comprehensive report about the trend. As explained in Runaway Train: The Reckless Expansion of Crude-by-Rail in North America (and in past coverage in DeSmogBlog), much of the oil train growth has been driven by the Bakken shale oil boom. Without sufficient pipeline capacity in the area, drillers have been loading up much more versatile trains to cart the light, sweet tight crude to refineries in the Gulf, and on both coasts.
Dave Cooper, Command Master Chief SEAL (Retired) for the Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU), has authored a threat assessment concluding TransCanada's Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is potentially at-risk of a terrorism attack.
In the report, Cooper concluded operational security vulnerabilities for the pipeline have been overlooked by the U.S. government. Cooper — most famous for overseeing the Abbottabad, Pakistan Osama Bin Laden raid as the commander of Navy SEAL Team Six — wrote the report as a consultant for billionaire Tom Steyer's advocacy group NextGen Climate Action.
“The very nature of Keystone XL’s newsworthiness, should it ever be built, increases its attractiveness as a target to terrorists: Keystone XL, aside from being a 'soft' target just like any other pipeline, has a built-in emotional impact that can’t be denied or wished away,” he wrote in the report's introduction.
“That simple fact, a newsworthy proposal that engenders strong passions, should clue in pipeline owners and government officials to the very real possibility of intentional attack.”
For the report, Cooper utilized a “red cell” methodology, parlance for U.S. special operations forces performing pre-mission reconnaissance, using open source data readily available to terrorists on the internet. In so doing, the special operations forces snuff out operational security (“OpSec” in military lingo) weaknesses, which they use as actionable intelligence in defense missions.
In the report, Cooper explained he “designed [the methodology this way] to showcase weaknesses in the current reality by exploiting the same information to which an outside terrorist group would have access.”
Cooper's probe included a due diligence trip out three redacted Great Plains locations*, where Phase I of the Keystone Pipeline System is currently operational (the northern leg of Keystone XL is Phase IV). Going out into the field, Cooper came away shocked by his discoveries.
His findings raise a troubling question: have real Keystone XL terrorism threats been ignored, while non-violent activists have been labeled potential eco-terrorists? Cooper offered his take on this question to DeSmogBlog.
“Pipelines aren't normally shut down for maintenance shortly after being started up. They may have planned it but something is wrong,” an industry insider told DeSmogBlog. “A two day shutdown on a new line raises suspicions.”
The Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration was unable to provide an answer to DeSmogBlog when asked to confirm if the shutdown was due to routine work today.
The Keystone XL pipeline's southern route passes under Eleanor Fairchild's Texas property, so she got angry when she learned that the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) has added two new conditions to the 57 already required for construction of the pipeline's northern route.
“My fears were confirmed,” Fairchild told DeSmogBlog. “The regulators knew the southern route wasn’t built safely. It is like they have said to hell with us in Texas and Oklahoma.”
Eleanor Fairchild was defiant when TransCanada started installing the pipeline on her land. She kept a watchful eye during the installation and repair of the pipeline. ©2012 Julie Dermansky
Julia Trigg Crawford, another Texas landowner who fought TransCanada in the courts, shared a link to an Associated Press story that focuses on the two new conditions. “Read this ASAP to see why Texans and Oklahomans were so outraged about TransCanada's abysmal construction record on the southern leg of the Keystone XL,” she wrote.
Julia Trigg Crawford was labeled an activist by TransCanada attorney James Freemand. She considers herself a patriot for standing up for all Americans' property rights. ©2013 Julie Dermansky
The conditions require TransCanada to hire a third-party contractor chosen by PHMSA to monitor the construction and make reports to the U.S. government on whether the work is sound. Additionally, TransCanada must “develop and implement a quality management system that would apply to the construction of the entire Keystone XL project in the U.S. to ensure that this pipeline is — from the beginning — built to the highest standards by both Keystone personnel and its many contractors.”
The Tar Sands Blockade, an activist group that independently monitored the pipeline installation after failing to stop it, wrote on its blog that the new conditions suggest there are serious problems with the southern route.
“TransCanada’s internal quality management and PHMSA’s external inspection program were inadequate, if not fatally flawed. The failures implied by these new conditions beg the question: If TransCanada wasn’t adequately inspecting its own work, and PHMSA didn’t have the third-party inspection company it needed for effective oversight, was anyone actually watching TransCanada?”
One of the biggest political issues facing the United States right now is economic inequality and the fight for a fairer minimum wage. Unfortunately for American workers, that fight is being held up by another political fight that isn’t quite as large in scale, but it has some powerful proponents in the dirty energy industry. That project, of course, is the northern half of the Keystone XL Pipeline.
Just a few weeks ago, President Obama announced an extended review period for the pipeline, which would allow him to make a decision after this year’s high-stakes midterm elections. That announcement was not joyful news to proponents of the pipeline, and they’ve now decided to tie the project into an issue that is very dear to many Americans — raising the minimum wage.
Last week, Tom Cole, a Republican representative from Oklahoma, told MSNBC that he would consider voting in favor of raising the federal minimum wage if Democrats in the House would approve the Keystone XL pipeline (video here). Rep. Cole’s top donor industry over the course of his decade-long career in the U.S. House of Representatives has been the oil and gas industry.
Cole says that “there’s always a potential for compromise” with his Democratic colleagues in the House, and approving something the Republicans want in exchange for something the Democrats want is how the game is played in Washington, D.C.
But Cole’s comments go beyond the typical tit-for-tat deals that take place inside the beltway, and he is entering extortion territory by making these claims in the media, rather than to his colleagues on the House floor.
Cole’s contention is that the Keystone XL pipeline will create jobs, while raising the minimum wage will destroy jobs, so overall, it’s a wash in his mind. Both of those assertions have been thoroughly debunked.