Keystone XL

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.  

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.

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