Keystone XL

Obama’s Argument Against Keystone XL Pokes Holes in Industry's Argument to Lift Crude Oil Export Ban

Crude oil export ban

Larry Summers, former secretary of the treasury and top economic advisor to President Barack Obama, has strongly advocated to lift the crude oil export ban. And he has a compelling, if not necessarily fact-based, argument.

Permitting the exports of oil will actually reduce the price of gasoline,” Summers told an audience at the Brookings Institute on September 9th.

This argument for lifting the crude oil export ban is also pushed by the American Petroleum Institute, prominent Republicans and the Government Accountability Office.

When analyzing the push to lift the crude oil export ban, it's informative to look to the ongoing efforts to sell the massive expansion in U.S. natural gas exports.

The oil and gas industry and its supporters have also pushed the idea that exporting natural gas would be good for the average American. However, in the case of natural gas exports, the outcome was actually quite the opposite as predicted by the Energy Information Administration in a report titled “Effect of Increased Natural Gas Exports on Domestic Energy Markets.”

Their analysis reads: “Increased natural gas exports lead to higher domestic natural gas prices.”

Gulf-Bound Tar Sands for Export? Follow the Oiltanking Trail

The U.S. Senate failed to get the necessary 60 votes to approve the northern leg of TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline, but incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) already promised it will get another vote when the GOP-dominated Senate begins its new session in 2015.

Though the bill failed, one of the key narratives that arose during the congressional debate was the topic of whether or not the tar sands product that may flow through it will ultimately be exported to the global market. President Barack Obama, when queried by the press about the latest Keystone congressional action, suggested tar sands exports are the KXL line's raison d'etre.

Obama's comments struck a nerve. Bill sponsor U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and supporter U.S. Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) both stood on the Senate floor and said Keystone XL is not an export pipeline in the minutes leading up to the bill's failure.

“Contrary to the ranting of some people that this is for export…Keystone is not for export,” said Landrieu, with Hoeven making similar remarks.

But a DeSmog probe into a recent merger of two major oil and gas industry logistics and marketing companies, Oiltanking Partners and Enterprise Products Partners, has demonstrated key pieces of the puzzle are already being put together by Big Oil to make tar sands exports a reality. 

And both Keystone XL and Enbridge's “Keystone XL Clone” serve as key thoroughfares for making it happen.

State Department's Keystone XL Contractor ERM Approved Project Now Melting Glaciers

A controversial government contractor once again finds itself in hot water, or in this case, melting glacier water.

TransCanada chose Environmental Resources Management Group (ERM) as one of its contractors to conduct the environmental impact statement for Keystone XL on behalf of the U.S. State Department. ERM Group also happens to have green-lighted a gold mining project in central Asia that is now melting glaciers.

ERM Group has a penchant for rubber-stamping projects that have had tragic environmental and public health legacies. For example, ERM formerly worked on behalf of the tobacco industry to pitch the safety of its deadly product.

A January 2014 study about Keystone XL's climate change impacts published in the journal Nature Climate Change paints a drastically different picture than ERM Group's Keystone XL tar sands study.

The Kumtor Gold Mineowned by Centerra Gold/Cameco Corporation, was provided a stamp of approval from ERM Group in October 2012. Similar to the TransCanada arrangement with the State Department on Keystone XL, Centerra served as the funder of the report evaluating its own project. 

ERM Group Melting Glaciers

“The mine sits at an altitude of 4,000 meters above sea level, in the Tien Shan mountain range and among some of Kyrgyzstan's - and the region's - most important glaciers,” explained an October 28 story published in Asia Times.

“Centerra Gold has consistently dismissed as untrue that operations at Kumtor have had negative implications for the glaciers, which are reportedly melting with observable speed due to years of dumping rock tailings onto the ice sheet. The Canadian company has backed its position with expert evaluations from consultancies such as Environmental Resources Management.” 

Republicans Attempting Science: A Preview of the Republican-Led Senate

Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA)

On September 9th, two subcommittees of the Congressional Committee on Science, Space and Technology held a joint hearing where they spent the better part of two hours arguing the benefits of moving crude oil by pipeline.

The Republican committee members grilled the representatives from the Department of Energy and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and repeatedly tried to make the argument that pipelines were the safest mode of transporting oil. 

Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) also mentioned how this administration “honestly believes in the global warming theory” and that was why the administration has not approved the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline.

The repeated focus on pipelines in this hearing was odd because the topic of the hearing was supposed to be the scientific properties of Bakken crude oil.

Former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner's Warburg Pincus May Profit from Tar Sands Exports

Several environmental groups have filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of State and Secretary John Kerry over the permitting of a controversial border-crossing northern leg of a pipeline system that DeSmogBlog has called Enbridge's “Keystone XL Clone.”

The Keystone XL Clone is designed to accomplish the same goal as TransCanada's Keystone XL: bringing Alberta's tar sands to Gulf coast refineries and export market. It consists of three legs: the Alberta Clipper expansion as the northern leg, the Flanagan South middle leg and the Seaway Twin southern leg.

Green groups have called the northern leg an “illegal scheme” because the Enbridge Alberta Clipper expansion proposal didn't go through the normal State Department approval process. Instead, State allowed Enbridge to add pressure pumps to two separate-but-connected pipelines on each side of the border and send Alberta's diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) to market.

Enbridge dodged a comprehensive State Department environmental review, which involves public hearings and public commenting periods. The groups say this is illegal under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and have demanded a re-do for Enbridge's application process.

“The only thing worse than dirty oil is dirty oil backed by dirty tricks. This is the fossil fuel equivalent of money laundering,” Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a press release announcing the lawsuit. “The Obama administration should be ashamed of itself for letting Enbridge illegally pump more dirty tar sands oil into the United States.”

The maneuver has a key beneficiary: former Obama Administration Secretary of the Treasury, Timothy Geithner, who now serves as President of the private equity giant Warburg Pincus.

Geithner's connection to the lawsuit not only adds intrigue, but also reveals the purpose of Enbridge's Keystone XL Clone: an export fast-track to the global market.

DeSmogCAST Episode 2: Midterm Elections Fallout, #KMFACE and the Fossil Fuel Industry in Kids' Classrooms

This week’s episode of DeSmogCAST covers the fallout of the U.S. midterm elections and what a GOP-led Congress will mean for climate action and the Keystone XL pipeline.

Hosted by DeSmogBlog contributor Farron Cousins, our DeSmog cast – featuring Carol Linnitt, Brendan DeMelle and Steve Horn – also takes a look at fracking bans in several U.S. states, the hilarious success of the #KMFACE campaign, and the importance of community organizing in the face of growing fossil fuel influence in our lives. We discuss Chevron’s ‘Fuel Your Schools’ campaign currently taking place in schools around Vancouver’s lower mainland.

“Citizen Interventions” Have Cost Canada’s Tar Sands Industry $17B, New Report Shows

Oil companies and fossil fuel investors seeking further developments in the Alberta tar sands have been dealt another setback with the publication of a report showing producers lost $17.1 billion USD between 2010-2013 due to successful public protest campaigns.

Fossil fuel companies lost $30.9 billion overall during the same period partly due to the changing North American oil market but largely because of a fierce grassroots movement against tar sands development, said the report — Material Risks: How Public Accountability Is Slowing Tar Sands Development.

A significant segment of opposition is from First Nations in Canada who are raising sovereignty claims and other environmental challenges, added the report, which was produced by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) and Oil Change International (OCI).

Tar sands producers face a new kind of risk from growing public opposition,” Tom Sanzillo, director of finance at IEEFA, and one of the lead authors on the report, said. “This opposition has achieved a permanent presence as public sentiment evolves and as the influence of organizations opposed to tar sands production continues to grow.”

U.S. Oil Imports From Canada Hit All-Time High Despite Opposition

Oil tankers

While the battle against TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline rages on and oil-by-rail faces increased scrutiny, U.S. oil imports from Canada have quietly hit a record high of 2.99 million barrels per day.

That number — from the week ending Sept. 12, 2014 — marks a 20 per cent increase from a year earlier.

While rail is still handling only a small amount of crude oil compared to pipelines, it continues to rapidly expand.

In a May 19, 2014 meeting between the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), API indicated the oil industry estimated it would need 12,000 rail cars to move Western Canadian crude, which is predominantly tar sands oil.

And in the second half of this year, it is becoming evident that the API’s prediction was a pretty good one. Rail is going to play an increased role alongside pipelines in getting tar sands oil to market despite opposition from activists across North America.

Senate Republicans Go All In On Keystone XL

Six years have passed since TransCanada originally sought a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, and Republicans in Washington have not given up fighting for the project. In spite of the fact that the pipeline will create fewer than 40 permanent jobs; would pose serious risks to potable water supplies; and would potentially raise energy prices for American consumers, some of our elected officials still believe that the pipeline would be a boon for the United States.

In the last week, the Republican-led efforts to force President Obama to approve the disaster of a plan have reached a fevered pitch. To begin with, to mark the 6th anniversary of the original permit application, every single Republican in the U.S. Senate signed a letter to President Obama demanding that he take action and approve the pipeline.

In the letter, Republican Senator John Hoeven (R-ND) played on the fears of American citizens while trying to force an approval. Hoeven wrote“After more than six years of study, five favorable environmental reviews, numerous polls showing the support of the American people, ISIS and the turmoil in the Middle East, it is way past time we take off the blinders and do what is in the best interest of the United States: approve the Keystone XL pipeline.”   

Not to be outdone, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made an appeal to the American public (and the dirty energy industry) by making the bold claim that, if Republicans gain control of the Senate in this year’s midterm elections, the Keystone XL pipeline will be one of their top priorities. McConnell claimed, “If we have a new majority next year, and a new majority leader, the Keystone pipeline will be voted on on the floor of the Senate, something the current majority has been avoiding for literally years.”

Even before the anniversary of the application, Senate Republicans were hard at work trying to force the project’s approval. A few days before they sent a letter to the President, Senate Republicans (and a West Virginia Democrat) introduced a bill that would strip the President of his authority to approve pipeline projects, and would limit the review period by the State Department down to 120 days. According to The Hill, the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives passed a similar bill back in June.

In Photos: Record-Breaking Crowd of 400K Marches For Climate Justice in New York

People's Climate March

More than 400,000 people took to the streets to have their voices heard at the People's Climate March yesterday in New York City. The record-breaking crowd took up 27 blocks in total, from West 86th street to Columbus Circle.

Photographer Zach Roberts was there to document the biggest climate change march in history for DeSmogBlog. Here are some of his best shots.

People's Climate March

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