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Mon, 2014-05-05 10:33Steve Horn
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For First Time, TransCanada Says Tar Sands Flowing to Gulf in Keystone XL South

TransCanada admitted for the first time that tar sands oil is now flowing through Keystone XL's southern leg, now rebranded the Gulf Coast Pipeline Project. The company confirmed the pipeline activity in its 2014 quarter one earnings call.

Asked by Argus Media reporter Iris Kuo how much of the current 300,000 to 400,000 barrels per day* of oil flowing from the Cushing, Oklahoma to Port Arthur, Texas pipeline is tar sands (“heavy crude,” in industry lingo), TransCanada CEO Russ Girling confirmed what many had already suspected.

“I don’t have that exact mix, but it does have the ability to take the domestic lights as well as any heavies that find a way down to the Cushing market, so it is a combination of the heavies and the lights,” said Girling. “I just don’t know what the percentage is.”

The Keystone Pipeline System — of which Keystone XL's northern leg is phase four of four phases — is and always has been slated to carry Alberta's tar sands to targeted markets. So the announcement is far from a shocker.


Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

More perplexing is why it took so long for the company to tell the public that tar sands oil now flows through the half of the pipeline approved via a March 2012 Executive Order by President Barack Obama

Wed, 2014-04-30 21:55Steve Horn
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Explosive Virginia Train Carried Fracked Bakken Oil, Headed to Potential Export Facility

Platts confirmed CSX Corporation's train that exploded in Lynchburg, Virginia was carrying sweet crude obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in North Dakota's Bakken Shale basin. CSX CEO Michael Ward has also confirmed this to Bloomberg.

“Trade sources said the train was carrying Bakken crude from North Dakota and was headed to Plains All American's terminal in Yorktown,” Platts explained. “The Yorktown facility can unload 130,000 b/d of crude and is located on the site of Plains oil product terminal.”

In January, the U.S. Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration issued a Safety Alert concluding Bakken crude is more flammable than heavier oils. Hence the term “bomb trains.”

At least 50,000 gallons of the oil headed to Yorktown is now missing, according to ABC 13 in Lynchburg. Some of it has spilled into the James River, as previously reported on DeSmogBlog.

A map available on CSX's website displaying the routes for its crude-by-rail trains offers a clear indication of where the train was headed.


Map Credit: CSX Corporation

Formerly a refinery owned by Standard Oil and then BP/Amoco, Plains All American has turned the Yorktown refinery into a mega holding facility. 

Yorktown may become a key future site for crude oil exports if the ban on exports of oil produced domestically in the U.S. is lifted. 

Tue, 2014-04-29 13:14Steve Horn
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TransCanada Charitable Fund Launches Keystone XL "Good Neighbor" Charm Offensive

TransCanada has taken a page out of former U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's playbook and deployed a public relations “charm offensive” in Texas, home of the southern leg of its Keystone XL tar sands pipeline now known as the Gulf Coast Pipeline Project.

In the 1930s and 1940s, Roosevelt utilized a “good neighbor policy“ — conceptualized today as “soft power” by U.S. foreign policy practitioners — to curry favor in Latin America and win over its public. Recently, TransCanada announced it would do something similar in Texas with its newly formed TransCanada Charitable Fund.

TransCanada has pledged $125,000 to 18 Texas counties over the next four years, funds it channeled through the East Texas Communities Foundation. In February, the company announced the first non-profit recipients of its initial $50,000 grant cycle.  

“The fund is designed to help improve East Texas communities and the lives of their residents through grants to qualifying non-profit organizations in the counties where TransCanada pipeline operations and projects exist,” explained a press release. “All funded projects and programs fall within three charitable categories: community, safety, and the environment.”

TransCanada utilizes the “good neighbor” language in deploying its own public relations pitch.

“At TransCanada, being a good neighbor and contributing to communities is an integral part of our success,” TransCanada's Corey Goulet said in a press release. “The establishment of the fund is another example of our commitment to long-term community investment and our dedication to the people of East Texas.”

Thu, 2014-04-17 05:00Sharon Kelly
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After Over a Decade of Fracking, Oversight of Industry's Radioactive Waste Still Lacking

It has been roughly twelve years since fracking launched the great shale rush in the U.S. and the biggest problem with the technology — how to safely dispose of the enormous quantities of toxic waste generated — remains unsolved.

In particular, regulators have struggled to fully understand or police the hazards posed by radioactivity found in fracking waste.

The most common form of radioactivity in shale waste comes from radium-226, which happens also to be an isotope that takes the longest to decay. To be exact, radium-226’s half-life of roughly 1,600 years means that well over a millennium and a half from now, more than half of the radium that fracking brings to the surface today will still be emitting dangerous radioactive particles.

Concern about the waste has taken on renewed urgency in light of a detailed report published in Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP), a peer-reviewed scientific journal which is backed by the National Institutes of Health. The study concluded that worrisome and extensive gaps in federal and state oversight of this radioactivity problem still persist.

At the federal level, radioactive oil and gas waste is exempt from nearly all the regulatory processes the general public might expect would govern it,” the researchers wrote. “State laws are a patchwork.’”

This is not an entirely new finding. Several years ago, a New York Times investigative piece highlighted how the oil and gas industry routinely dumped radium-laced waste water into rivers. State regulators in Pennsylvania and the oil and gas industry adamantly denied there was a problem.

So what's changed? The recent academic study concludes that even several years later, worrisome oversight lapses remain. As such, the researchers wrote, there is continuing reason for concern.

We are troubled by people drinking water that [could potentially have] radium-226 in it,” David Brown, a public health toxicologist with the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, told the researchers (insert in original). “When somebody calls us and says ‘is it safe to drink our water,’ the answer is ‘I don’t know.’”

Wed, 2014-02-12 05:00Steve Horn
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Documents Reveal Calvert County Signed Non-Disclosure Agreement with Company Proposing Cove Point LNG Terminal

Co-authored by Steve Horn and Caroline Selle

DeSmogBlog has obtained documents revealing that the government of Calvert County, MD, signed a non-disclosure agreement on August 21, 2012, with Dominion Resources — the company proposing the Cove Point Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) export terminal in Lusby, MD.  The documents have raised concerns about transparency between the local government and its citizens.

The proposal would send gas obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) from the Marcellus Shale basin to the global market. The export terminal is opposed by the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Maryland Sierra Club and a number of other local environment and community groups.

The Accokeek Mattawoman Piscataway Creeks Council (AMP Council), an environmental group based in Accokeek, MD, obtained the documents under Maryland's Public Information Act and provided them to DeSmogBlog.

Cornell University’s Law School explains a non-disclosure agreement is a “legally binding contract in which a person or business promises to treat specific information as a trade secret and not disclose it to others without proper authorization.”

Upon learning about the agreement, Fred Tutman, CEO of Patuxent Riverkeeper — a group opposed to the LNG project — told DeSmogBlog he believes Calvert County officials are working “in partnership with Dominion to the detriment of citizen transparency.”

We’re unhappy that it does seem to protect Dominion's interest rather than the public interest,” Tutman said. “The secrecy surrounding this deal has made it virtually impossible for anyone exterior to those deals, like citizens, to evaluate whether these are good transactions or bad transactions on their behalf.”

Fri, 2014-01-31 05:00Sharon Kelly
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Amid Calls for EPA to Reopen Fracking Investigations, States Confirm Contaminated Groundwater

Republican Sen. James Inhofe said it. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper said it. Even former Environmental Protection Agency chief Lisa Jackson said it.

For over a decade, oil and gas executives and the policy makers who support them have repeated a single bold claim: there has never been a single documented case where fracking contaminated groundwater. 

But a blockbuster investigative report by the Associated Press offered up new evidence earlier this month that the shale industry’s keystone environmental claim is simply not true.

Multiple states confirmed that drilling and fracking contaminated groundwater supplies, the investigation found. There have been thousands of complaints from people living near drilling over the past decade, the AP reported, and three out of the four states from which the AP obtained documents confirmed multiple instances where oil and gas companies contaminated groundwater.

Out of the four states the AP obtained documents from, only Texas reported no confirmed oil and gas-related groundwater contamination. But one high-profile incident in Texas has again come under scrutiny, as a report quietly released by the Obama administration on Christmas Eve has called the adequacy of the state’s investigation into question.

On Monday, over 200 environmental groups called on President Obama to reopen the federal investigations into that case and others in Pennsylvania and in Wyoming, and to personally meet with people whose drinking water supplies have been polluted.

“The previously closed EPA investigation into these matters must be re-opened,” said the letter, sent the day before Mr. Obama's State of the Union address. “These three are among a growing number of cases of water contamination linked to drilling and fracking, and a significant and rapidly growing body of scientific evidence showing the harms drilling and fracking pose to public health and the environment.”

Thu, 2014-01-30 10:44Julie Dermansky
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Nordheim: A Texas Town Facing A Toxic Future

Nordheim, Texas, population 307, may soon have a 200-plus acre waste disposal plant as its neighbor despite the protests of the city’s mayor, Kathy Payne.

The small town (one bank, one school, one cafe and a couple of shops) is located in the Eagle Ford Shale region of southern Texas, where vast oil deposits have only recently become accessible through hydraulic fracturing — a process that involves injecting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals at high pressure underground to fracture the rocks and release the oil inside.


Nordheim Mayor Kathy Payne in City Hall. ©2014 Julie Dermansky

Payne learned about the waste disposal plant in the local paper. Because the facility is planned for outside city limits, industry doesn’t have to share its plans with her.

Since reading about the proposal she has done all she can to learn what it will mean for her city with the assistance of Louisiana-based environmental scientist Wilma Subra, who investigates industry hot spots to help citizens make informed decisions about developments coming their way.

The waste disposal site proposed by San Antonio-based Pyote Reclamation Service will be a quarter of a mile outside of Nordheim if it’s granted a permit by the Texas Railroad Commission, the regulatory agency for all things gas and oil in Texas. The facility would have eight pits up to 25 feet deep and span an area almost as big as the town itself. Pyote also has plans to install another facility 3.5 miles away. 

Wed, 2014-01-22 14:43Julie Dermansky
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TransCanada's Keystone XL South Pipeline Set To Begin Operations Today

Today, January 22, the southern portion of TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline is set to become operational, although environmentalists and Texas homeowners are continuing to fight against it.

TransCanada is surely celebrating now that it has a pipeline system in place connecting the tar sands in Alberta, Canada to the Gulf Coast refineries and export terminals — via the combination of the original Keystone pipeline running from Alberta to Cushing, Oklahoma and the pipeline it connects to, Keystone XL's southern half (now rebranded the Gulf Coast Pipeline Project) which President Obama fast-tracked via executive order nearly two years ago.

But nobody except the pipeline's owners knows exactly what will be transported through the Gulf Coast pipeline. TransCanada declined to reveal this important information, citing the confidentiality of their commercial contracts. Jeannie Shiffer, a spokesperson for the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration's (PHMSA), part of the Department of Transportation, confirmed that, “PHMSA doesn't require pipeline operators to report crude oil types.” 

This leaves landowners and first responders in a precarious situation in the inevitable case of a spill. As tar sands pipeline spills in Kalamazoo, Michigan and Mayflower, Arkansas have made clear, tar sands dilbit is more toxic than conventional oil and requires a different spill response effort.

Mon, 2014-01-13 15:40Guest
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Range Resources Spokesman Matt Pitzarella Misrepresented Education Credentials, Never Received Business Ethics Degree

This is a guest post by Amanda Gillooly, originally published on Marcellus Monitor.

Range Resources Director of Corporate Communications Matt Pitzarella has long listed a master of science degree in leadership and business ethics from Duquesne University as one of his educational accomplishments – one he claimed to have earned in 2005. That degree is listed under his educational experience on his Linkedin profile.

In a profile piece that appeared on the website for the Cal Times (the student publication of the California University of Pennsylvania, where he earned his undergraduate degree),  contributing editor Casey Flores wrote:

Matt is a genuine success story. After graduating from Cal U with a major in public relations and minor in marketing, Matt went on to work his way up through the education and corporate world with a master’s degree in leadership and business ethics from Duquesne University. He attributes much of his success, however, to the internships he completed during his time at Cal U.

He also lists the degree on yatedo.com here.

However, an investigation into his education reveals that Pitzarella never earned a degree through Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.

Marcellus Monitor received this email from the university’s Director of Communications, Tammy Ewin in response to our inquiry into Pitzarella’s degree:

Matt Pitzarella does not have a degree from Duquesne University. He attended from the spring of 2004 through fall 2004 in the master of science in leadership and business ethics program.
Fri, 2013-12-20 09:45Steve Horn
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Dollarocracy: U.S. Congressmen Refuse to Address Keystone XL Southern Half Spill Concerns

What's the U.S. congressional response to the safety issues with the 485-mile southern half of TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline raised by Public Citizen's Texas office? Mostly what Simon & Garfunkel called “The Sound of Silence” in their famous song.

DeSmogBlog contacted more than three dozen members of the U.S. Congress representing both political parties to get their take on Public Citizen's alarming findings in its November investigation (including dents, metal that had to be patched up and pipeline segments labeled “junk”), but got little in the way of substantive responses.

Set to open for business on January 22approved via an Executive Order by President Barack Obama in March 2012 and rebranded the “Gulf Coast Pipeline Project” by TransCanada, the southern half of the pipeline has garnered far less media coverage than its U.S.-Canada border-crossing brother to the north, Keystone XL's northern half.

Over two dozen members of the U.S. House of Representatives wrote a letter to President Obama on December 12 expressing concern over the conflicts-of-interest in the U.S. State Department's environmental review process for the northern half of the line.

But none of them would comment on concerns with the southern half of the line raised in the Public Citizen report after multiple queries via e-mail from DeSmogBlog.

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