Ben Jervey

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Ben Jervey has been covering and working in the climate, energy, and environmental fields for a decade. He is regular contributor to DeSmogBlog. He was the original Environment Editor for GOOD Magazine, and wrote a longstanding weekly column titled “The New Ideal: Building the clean energy economy of the 21st Century and avoiding the worst fates of climate change.” He also contributes to National Geographic News, Grist, OnEarth Magazine, and many other online and print publications. His book–The Big Green Apple: Your Guide to Eco-Friendly Living in New York City–has been called the “bible of green living for NYC.” A bicycle enthusiast, Ben has ridden across the United States and through much of Europe.

Senate Hearing Confirms Natural Gas Export Plans Will Raise Prices For Americans

Considering the rate at which natural gas resources are being developed, and the sudden push from industry to export the product, it might come as a surprise that the Senate’s Energy Committee hadn’t had a hearing on liquified natural gas (LNG) since 2005.

Last Tuesday, for the first time in six years, Senators brought the issue back to the Capitol spotlight, as they considered the impact of exporting LNG on domestic prices.

In order to export or import natural gas, companies can either transport it through pipelines, or ship it as liquefied natural gas (LNG). LNG is natural gas cooled to -260 degrees Fahrenheit, at which point the gas becomes a liquid. Back in 2006, LNG imports far outstripped exports, and industry used that trade deficit to push for a massive expansion of domestic drilling, relying heavily on the argument for American “energy security.”

Now that that expansion is well-underway, with the infamous Utica and Marcellus shales the frontier of rapid development, utilizing controversial fracking and horizontal drilling techniques, the industry is eager to start exporting LNG to international markets where the fuel fetches a much heftier price.

Breaking: State Department Delays Keystone XL Decision Until 2013

The State Department announced today that they would “seek additional information” about the Keystone XL pipeline, meaning that they will take another 12 months at least to re-review the proposed pipeline route. This new review will build on (or make up) for the woefully-incompletely Environmental Impact Statement.

Here's the State Department's official language:


…given the concentration of concerns regarding the environmental sensitivities of the current proposed route through the Sand Hills area of Nebraska, the Department has determined it needs to undertake an in-depth assessment of potential alternative routes in Nebraska. …
Among the relevant issues that would be considered are environmental concerns (including climate change), energy security, economic impacts, and foreign policy.

The decision comes in the immediate wake of a massive protest at the White House on Sunday, as roughly 12,000 anti-pipeline activists circled the White House in a “solidarity hug.” The action was the latest in a series of protests and events staged by opponents of the proposed TransCanada pipeline that would funnel tar sands crude from Canada down to the Gulf Coast in Texas, much of it bound for export to other nations.

The decision to delay is a clear testament to the power of public engagement in the political process and good old-fashioned protest. But the battle isn't over yet.

Valero Positioning To Export Tar Sands Oil, Guarding Pot of Gold at End of Keystone XL Pipeline

In the heated Keystone XL debate, the Canadian company TransCanada, which is attempting to build the line, and the Koch brothers, who are throwing their considerable weight behind it in the interest of their Koch Industries’ subsidiaries, receive a lot of attention.
 

But there are other benefactors that are worth a closer look, as nobody stands to benefit as much in the longer term (if the Keystone XL pipeline is ever built) as the companies that operate the refineries on the Gulf Coast.

Let’s step back and review what the refineries actually do. The diluted tar sands bitumen (or “DilBit”) that would flow through Keystone XL is an ultra-acidic, highly viscous mess, that doesn’t at all resemble the refined petroleum products like diesel or gasoline or even jet fuel that are sold on the commercial markets. DilBit is, in the words of Keith Schneider, ”thick as peanut butter and more acidic, highly corrosive, and abrasive” than typical crude.

This tar sands DilBit needs to be refined before it can be sold. But only certain refineries are capable of handling the corrosive DilBit.

Refiners along the Texas Gulf Coast, where the Keystone XL pipeline would ultimately deliver tar sands DilBit from Canada, are eager to accomodate. The company that appears positioned to receive and refine more of TransCanada’s crude than anyone else is the Valero Energy Corporation (NYSE: VLO).

Dominion Seeks To Export Marcellus Shale Gas While Claiming Its Necessity for U.S. Energy Security

As energy companies scramble to develop the Marcellus Shale and other natural gas reserves locked up in shale formations, you’ll hear a lot about American “energy security” and reducing dependence on fossil fuel imports. You won’t hear a lot about companies’ plans to export the gas.

It’s becoming clear, however, that gas companies like Dominion Resources and Jordan Cove have big plans for exporting the natural gas that they’re rushing to frack.

First, some background. To export or import natural gas, companies can either transport it through pipelines, or ship it as liquefied natural gas (LNG). LNG is natural gas cooled to -260 degrees Fahrenheit, at which point the gas becomes a liquid.

Currently, the vast majority of natural gas exports from the United States travel through pipelines into Mexico and Canada. Of the 1,136,789 million cubic feet of natural gas exported from the United States in 2010, only 64,763 million cubic feet were exported as liquefied natural gas. In other words, only about 5 percent of natural gas exports currently leave our borders as LNG from coastal ports.


  

Cornell Report Busts Myth of Keystone XL Job Creation

Pipe dreams: Jobs Gained, Jobs Lost by the Construction of Keystone XL

Proponents of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project would like you to believe that, if approved, its construction will put hundreds of thousands of Americans to work. This is plainly untrue, according to a new report by the Cornell University Global Labor Institute.

TransCanada, the Canadian company behind the project, has spent the past few years making ambitious claims about the jobs that would be created by construction of the pipeline, which would carry diluted bitumen (or DilBit) crude 1,700 miles across six Great Plains states, 1,904 waterways, and the nation’s largest freshwater aquifer.

These jobs claims have grown more optimistic as the project has found itself the subject of increased scrutiny. This National Wildlife Federation post rounds up TransCanada’s mysteriously rising jobs claims:

In 2008, a report included in TransCanada’s Presidential Permit application for Keystone XL to the State Department said they anticipate “a peak workforce of approximately 3,500 to 4,200 construction personnel” to build the pipeline. In 2010, TransCanada put out a press release that said, “During construction, Keystone XL would create 13,000 jobs and further produce 118,000 spin-off jobs.” In 2011, TransCanada put out a fact sheet that said Keystone XL would “create about 20,000 construction and manufacturing jobs.”

In reality, according to the exhaustively researched Cornell report, even the earliest, most modest claims seem unrealistic.

In fact, in Pipe Dreams? Jobs Gained, Jobs Lost by the Construction of Keystone XL, the institute says more jobs could actually be destroyed than created by the pipeline.

EnergyNOW! Tackles Keystone XL, And Talks To Me About Pipelines

EnergyNOW! news on Keystone XL pipeline

On Sunday, energyNOW! news tackled the Keystone XL debate in a wide-ranging half hour program that covered the controversial pipeline in typically comprehensive fashion.

An overview intro segment looks at the “impact on America,” from the alleged reduction of imports of OPEC crude to potential for pollution. Reporter Thalia Assuras' trip to Nebraska to talk to local 'Huskers – landowners and politicians alike – is fascinating.

The show then travels up to Alberta, whose Athabasca tar sands reserves would feed the Keystone XL pipeline, funneling filthy DilBit crude down to Gulf Coast refineries.

The last segment features an exclusive interview with Energy Secretary Steven Chu, which they teased a few weeks back. (And which, you might recall, I responded to at the time, calling his claim that Keystone XL would increase our national “energy security” cynical politics.)

If you're able to spend a half hour learning about this urgent hot-button issue, this show is a great place to start. If you can't see the embedded video below, you can watch on energyNOW's website.

"Doubt" Video On Fossil Fuel Industry's Tobacco PR Tactics To Undermine Science

Doubt is our product

In case you didn't manage to catch all 24 hours of the Climate Reality Project (I mean, what the heck else were you doing?), I wanted to flag this one video for you, as it's particularly germane to the ongoing coverage here at DeSmogBlog.

It's called “Doubt,” and it's about how the fossil fuel industry took the tobacco industry's playbook (didn't just borrow a play, but really the whole playbook) to confuse the public on the science of climate change. Not by disproving the facts – because that's impossible – but just by creating enough doubt to make a busy public dismiss it.

DOUBT from The Climate Reality Project on Vimeo.

America's Woefully Inadequate Oversight of Pipeline Safety: A New York Times Stunner

Last week, the New York Times published a bombshell of an expose about the government's woefully inadequate program to monitor and ensure the security and safety of American energy pipelines. I’ve spent a lot of time lately investigating the state of North American energy pipelines, and this is by far the best overview I’ve seen of the government’s feckless attempt to oversee the sprawling system and protect the public from spills, leaks, and explosions.

Reporters Dan Frosch and Janet Roberts dig into federal government records and safety documents and surface some truly startling findings. Like the fact that there are “still more than 100 significant spills each year.” (“Significant” spills being those that cause a fire, serious injury or death, or release over 2,100 gallons.)

Or that the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration only requires companies to focus their inspections on “the 44 percent of the nation’s land-based liquid pipelines that could affect high consequence areas — those near population centers or considered environmentally delicate — which leaves thousands of miles of lines loosely regulated and operating essentially on the honor system.” Or the fact that the agency doesn’t even employ as many inspectors as federal law demands.

It’s well worth reading the whole expose, but here’s the crucial takeaway:

Environmental Impact Deemed "Limited" For Potentially Explosive Shale Gas Pipeline Into Lower Manhattan

Last Friday, exactly one year after the massive natural gas pipeline blast that killed eight and leveled a San Bruno, California neighborhood, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) brought the controversial New Jersey-New York gas line one step closer to construction.

The pipeline, as proposed by Spectra Energy, would carry shale gas through a number of New Jersey towns, under the Hudson River, and into the Meatpacking District of Lower Manhattan. On Friday, FERC released a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that gave preliminary approval for construction of the pipeline and all of the related aboveground facilities. The EIS runs over 800 pages long, so I wasn’t able to give it a thorough read (you can find links to all the sections here), but the Executive Summary gave every indication that the line would be approved. FERC found “that construction and operation of the NJ-NY Project would result in limited adverse environmental impacts” and that “[T]hese limited impacts would mostly occur during the period of construction.”

For all the detailed discussion of wetlands and waterways and noise pollution and archaeological sites, there’s one major risk – environmental and public safety – that the report glosses over.

What happens if there’s an explosion? New Jersey-New York City shale gas pipeline map

San Bruno Gas Explosion One Year Anniversary, Lax Oversight is Blamed

San Bruno natural gas pipeline explosion at night

One year ago today, at about 6:11 pm, a massive natural gas line explosion ripped apart a residential neighborhood in San Bruno, California. The blast was described as “a thunderous roar heard for miles,” and the geyser of fire that spewed forth killed eight people, injured dozens, destroyed 38 homes, and damaged another 70.

Last week, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which regulates energy and resource pipelines, revealed the findings of their year-long investigation into the causes of that fatal, catastrophic blast.

“Our investigation revealed that for years, PG&E exploited weaknesses in a lax system of oversight,” said NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman. “We also identified regulators that placed a blind trust in the companies that they were charged with overseeing to the detriment of public safety.”

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