U.S. Department of State

Fri, 2014-03-28 09:48Steve Horn
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BP Lake Michigan Oil Spill: Did Tar Sands Spill into the Great Lake?

Is it conventional crude or tar sands? That is the question. And it's one with high stakes, to boot. 

The BP Whiting refinery in Indiana spilled between 470 and 1228 gallons of oil (or is it tar sands?) into Lake Michigan on March 24 and four days later no one really knows for sure what type of crude it was. Most signs, however, point to tar sands. 

The low-hanging fruit: the refinery was recently retooled as part of its “modernization project,” which will “provide Whiting with the capability of processing up to about 85% heavy crude, versus about 20% today.”

As Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Midwest Program Director Henry Henderson explained in a 2010 article, “heavy crude [is] code for tar sands.”

Albeit, “heavy crude” is produced in places other than Alberta's tar sands, with Venezuela serving as the world's other tar sands-producing epicenter. So, in theory, if it's heavy crude that spilled into Lake Michigan, it could be from Venezuela.

But in practice, the facts on the ground tell a different story. As a January 2014 article in Bloomberg outlined, the combination of the U.S. hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) boom and the Canadian tar sands boom has brought U.S. imports of Venezuelan oil to 28-year lows.

Which brings us to the next question: how does the Canadian “heavy crude” get to BP's Whiting refinery to begin with? Enter: Enbridge's Line 6A pipeline.

Wed, 2014-03-26 04:38Steve Horn
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Follow the Money: Three Energy Export Congressional Hearings, No Climate Change Discussion

In light of ongoing geopolitical tensions in Russia, Ukraine and hotly contested Crimea, three (yes, three!) U.S. Congressional Committees held hearings this week on the U.S. using its newfangled oil and gas bounty as a blunt tool to fend off Russian dominance of the global gas market.

Though 14 combined witnesses testified in front of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Energy and Power and U.S. House Committee on Foreign Relations, not a single environmental voice received an invitation. Climate change and environmental concerns were only voiced by two witnesses. 

Using the ongoing regional tumult as a rationale to discuss exports of U.S. oil and gas obtained mainly via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), the lack of discussion on climate change doesn't mean the issue isn't important to national security types.

Indeed, the Pentagon's recently published Quadrennial Defense Review coins climate change a “threat force multiplier” that could lead to resource scarcity and resource wars. Though directly related to rampant resource extraction and global oil and gas marketing, with fracking's accompanying climate change and ecological impacts, “threat force multiplication” impacts of climate change went undiscussed. 

With another LNG (liquefied natural gas) export terminal approved by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) in Coos Bay, Ore., to non-Free Trade Agreement countries on March 24 (the seventh so far, with two dozen still pending), the heat is on to export U.S. fracked oil and gas to the global market.   

So, why wasn't the LNG climate trump card discussed in a loud and clear way? Well, just consider the source: 11 of the witnesses had ties in one way or another to the oil and gas industry.

Wed, 2014-02-05 10:00Steve Horn
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Keystone XL's Northern Leg: A Fracked Oil Pipeline Along with Tar Sands

On January 31, President Barack Obama's U.S. State Department released its Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the northern leg of TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

The State Department's FEIS argues that the northern half of Keystone XL, if built, “remains unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands, or the continued demand for heavy crude oil at refineries in the United States.”

But flying under the media's radar so far, the State Department review also highlights the prospect that Keystone XL will not only carry tar sands, but also be tapped to carry up to 100,000 barrels per day of oil extracted via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) from North Dakota's Bakken Shale basin.

“[Keystone XL] would have the capacity to deliver up to 830,000 bpd, of which 730,000 bpd of capacity has been set aside for [tar sands] and the remaining 100,000 bpd of capacity set aside for [Bakken] crude oil,” the report details.

“[TransCanada] has represented that it has firm commitments to transport approximately 555,000 bpd of [tar sands], as well as 65,000 bpd of crude oil from the Bakken.”

A smaller proposed project owned by TransCanada called the Bakken MarketLink pipeline and incorporated as Keystone Marketlink LLC in February 2011, would ship the fracked oil to Keystone XL's northern leg as an “on ramp.” 

“This project would include a 5-mile pipeline, pumps, meters, and storage tanks to supply Bakken crude oil to the proposed pipeline,” explains the FEIS.

Tue, 2013-12-10 12:01Steve Horn
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TransCanada Begins Injecting Oil Into Keystone XL Southern Half; Exact Start Date A Mystery

Keystone XL's southern half is one step closer to opening for business. TransCanada announced that “on Saturday, December 7, 2013, the company began to inject oil into the Gulf Coast Project pipeline as it moves closer to the start of commercial service.”

The Sierra Club's legal challenge to stop the pipeline was recently denied by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, so the southern half, battled over for years between the industry and environmentalists, will soon become a reality.

According to a statement provided to DeSmog by TransCanada, “Over the coming weeks, TransCanada will inject about three million of [sic] barrels of oil into the system, beginning in Cushing, Oklahoma and moving down to the company’s facilities in the Houston refining area.”

In mid-January, up to 700,000 barrels per day of Alberta's tar sands diluted bitumen (dilbit) could begin flowing through the 485-mile southern half of TransCanada's pipeline, known as the Gulf Coast Project. Running from Cushing, Oklahoma to Port Arthur, Texas, the southern half of the pipeline was approved by both a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nationwide Permit 12 and an Executive Order from President Barack Obama in March 2012.

BloombergThe Canadian Press and The Oklahoman each reported that the Gulf Coast Project pipeline is now being injected with oil. Line fill is the last key step before a pipeline can begin operations. 

“There are many moving parts to this process – completion of construction, testing, regulatory approvals, line fill and then the transition to operations,” TransCanada spokesman Shawn Howard told DeSmog. “Line fill has to take place first, then once final testing and certifications are completed, the line can then go into commercial service.”

Residents living along the length of the southern half will have no clue about the rest of the start-up process, as TransCanada says it won't provide any more information until the line is already running. “For commercial and contractual reasons, the next update we will provide will be after the line has gone into commercial service,” the company announced.

When DeSmog asked whether the company is currently injecting conventional oil or diluted bitumen sourced from the Canadian tar sands, TransCanada's Howard replied: 

“Many people like to try and categorize the blend, etc., however we are injecting oil into the pipeline. As you’ve likely seen me quoted before, oil is oil and this pipeline is designed to handle both light and heavy blends of oil, in accordance with all U.S. regulatory standards.

I am not able to provide you the specific blend or breakdown as we are not permitted (by our customers) from disclosing that information to the media. There are very strict confidentiality clauses in the commercial contracts we enter into with our customers, and that precludes us from providing that. The reason is that if we are providing information about a specific blend, when it is in our system, etc. – that has the potential to identify who our customers may be or allow others to take financial positions in the market and profit from that information when others do not have access to the same information. This has much farther reaching impacts for the financial markets (and ultimately all of us).”

Tue, 2013-11-12 08:02Steve Horn
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Public Citizen Report Reveals Dents, Holes in Keystone XL Southern Half Weeks Before Planned Startup

The southern half of Transcanada's Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is supposed to begin pumping up to 700,000 barrels of diluted bitumen per day through the Cushing, OK to Port Arthur, TX route within weeks. But is it ready to operate safely?

Public Citizen has released a chilling report revealing that the 485-mile KXL southern line is plagued by dents, faulty welding, exterior damage that was patched up poorly and misshapen bends, among other troubling anomalies.

In conducting its investigative report, “Construction Problems Raise Questions About the Integrity of the Pipeline,” Public Citizen worked on the ground to examine 250 miles of the 485 mile pipeline's route. The group and its citizen sources uncovered over 125 anomalies in that half of the line alone. These findings moved Public Citizen to conclude the southern half of the pipeline shouldn't begin service until the anomalies are taken care of, and ponders if the issues can ever be resolved sufficiently.

After President Barack Obama temporarily denied a permit for Keystone XL's northern half in January 2012, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers granted Keystone XL's south half a legally dubious Nationwide Permit 12 to expedite construction. Soon after, President Obama issued his own Executive Order in March 2012 calling for the expedited building of the south half in de facto support of the Corps' permit. 

An August report by industry intelligence firm Genscape said the pipeline, rebranded by Transcanada as the “Gulf Coast Project,” will ship tar sands dilbit through the line beginning in the first quarter of 2014. Now, the race to build the south half literally looks like it could come with major costs and consequences.  

Fri, 2013-09-20 11:18Steve Horn
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This Graphic Says It All About Keystone XL Web of Deceit

Friends of the Earth-U.S. (FOE) and 350.org have jointly unveiled an easily sharable graphic depicting the web of deceit surrounding the environmental review for the northern half of Transcanada's Keystone XL tar sands export pipeline

The graphic's notorious star: Environmental Resources Management, Inc., better known as ERM Group. ERM Group was chosen by the State Department - more specifically by Transcanada for the State Department - to perform the review.

“[T]he process has a built-in conflict of interest, because the contractors who do EIS studies for the government are paid for by the applicant,” a July investigative piece in Bloomberg explains

The graphic serves as a summation of lots of the work done here on DeSmogBlog over the last six months. In so doing, it digs into conflicts of interest, lobbyist influence peddling and outright corruption occurring at the U.S. State Department pertaining to Keystone XL.

Check out the graphic below:

Thu, 2013-08-15 14:50Steve Horn
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Mark Fiore Unveils "Keystone Clones" Cartoon on Keystone XL Corruption Ring

mark fiore tar sands timmy keystone xl

Mark Fiore - the Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist satirist - has a new video out that in two-minutes pokes fun at the perverse conflicts of interest that've prevailed throughout debate over the prospective Keystone XL northern half.

It's these conflicts of interest that DeSmogBlog has focused on in the past several months since the March 2013 release of the sham U.S. State Department Keystone XL environmental review. Some of the conflicts of interest covered in Fiore's 2-minute video titled “Keystone Clones” now up on Moyers and Company's website include:

-Anita Dunn/Robert Bauer Scandal: Described as a “Power Couple” by NewsweekAnita Dunn is President Barack Obama's former communications director and was a top-level communications advisor for Obama's 2008 run for president and Secretary of State John Kerry's 2004 run for president. Through her PR firm SKDKnickerbocker, she does communications work for TransCanada, owner of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Her husband Robert “Bob” Bauer is Obama's personal attorney, former White House Counsel under Obama, and served as the election law attorney for Kerry in 2004 and Obama in 2008 and 2012. Infamous in election law reform circles for his attempts to bend election law in such a way as to flood the electoral system with more money, Bauer's law firm Perkins Coie also has an attorney-client relationship with TransCanada.

-ERM Group Scandals: Obama's State Department chose a Big Oil-connected contractor named Environmental Resources Management, Inc. (ERM Group) to do the environmental review for Keystone XL's northern half. ERM - which historically also did contract work for Big Tobacco - has rubber-stamped ecologically hazardous projects in the Caspian Sea-area, Peru, Delaware and now the Keystone XL.

Given this shady track record, it's unsurprising it also said the pipeline's northern half - if built - would have negligible climate change impacts. 

Wed, 2013-06-26 21:10Steve Horn
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API Spent $22 Million Lobbying for Keystone XL; State Dept Contractor ERM an API Member

In President Barack Obama's Climate Action Plan address, he stated that TransCanada's Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would only receive State Department approval “if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.” 

As it stands, that means Keystone XL - which if built to full capacity would pipe diluted bitumen, or “dilbit” from the Alberta tar sands down to Port Arthur, TX refineries for shipment to the global export market - may likely receive Obama's approval.

That's because Obama's State Dept. - assigned to make a final decision on KXL because it crosses the international border - contracted its Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Study (SEIS) out to Environmental Resources Management, Inc. (ERM Group).

ERM Group is a dues-paying member of the American Petroleum Institute (API), as is TransCanada.

The SEIS concluded KXL's “approval or denial” - misleading because its southern half is already 75-percent complete via an Obama March 2012 Executive Order - “is unlikely to have a substantial impact on the rate of development” of the tar sands. Therefore, it will also have little impact on climate change, according to ERM's SEIS

It's important to remember that ERM was chosen on behalf of State by TransCanada itself. Futher, one of the ERM employees tasked to conduct the SEIS, as exposed in a Mother Jones investigation, is a former TransCanada employee.

A DeSmog investigation also reveals that API has spent $22.03 million dollars lobbying at the federal level on Keystone XL and/or tar sands issues since the pipeline was initially proposed in June 2008. Further, some of those oil lobbyists have direct ties to both President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the two men who have the final say on KXL

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.”

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