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.

Since the first of the civilly disobedience activists was arrested in August, a steady stream of negative news has betrayed the proposed TransCanada pipeline project.

There was the scandalously cozy relationship between TransCanada and the State Department. TransCanada got booed out of Memorial Stadium, as sacred a place as exists in all of Nebraska. A report (PDF) revealed Valero and other refineries’ plans to export the tar sands crude that would flow through Keystone XL, casting doubt on pipeline proponent’s claims that Canadian tar sands would contribute to American “energy security.” The State Department admitted to losing tens of thousands of public comments about the pipeline. Industry’s claims of Keystone job creation were found to be inflated through fuzzy math and outright fabrication.

I believe that it’s safe to say that none of this would have happened – or at least wouldn’t have been exposed and covered by the mainstream media – without the ongoing attention that the #noKXL movement has been bringing to the pipeline issue.

Bill McKibben of explained it like such, on behalf of TarSandsAction:

Six months ago, almost no one outside the pipeline route even knew about Keystone. One month ago, a secret poll of “energy insiders” by the National Journal found that “virtually all” expected easy approval of the pipeline by year’s end.  As late as last week the CBC reported that Transcanada was moving huge quantities of pipe across the border and seizing land by eminent domain, certain that its permit would be granted. A done deal has come spectacularly undone.

Responding to the (then potential) delay, TransCanada’s chief executive Russ Girling took a threatening tone to the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, hinting that any delay could kill the pipeline plans altogether. “How long will those customers wait for Canadian crude oil to get to the marketplace before they sort of throw up their hands and say this is just never going to happen?”

The decision is far from final, and the political manuevering was certainly to put the decision off until after the election. But, for now, what started as incredibly long odds (McKibben himself has said that they were 1,000-to-1 when this campaign started back in the summer), is now totally up in the air.

For now, the delay itself is a victory for pipeline opponents. Every month the decision is deterred, TransCanada loses money and the possibility of abandoning the Keystone XL entirely goes up.

Two years ago, I talked to Tim DeChristopher (aka Bidder 70) after he had been arrested for “disrupting” a government oil and gas lease auction in Utah’s wildlands. One of his responses carries serious resonance through these Keystone XL actions today. DeChristopher told me:

You know how Gandhi said you have to “be the change you want to see in the world.” Well the change that most of us wish to see is a carbon tax, but our leaders aren’t doing that for us, so Gandhi’s call is then for us to be the carbon tax. What does that mean – to “be the carbon tax?” To cost the fossil fuel industry money in any way that we can. Getting in their way, slowing them down, shutting them down. Doing whatever we can to be that tax.

Everyone participating in this ongoing Tar Sands Action is “becoming” that carbon tax. They're slowing down TransCanada, slowing down the movement of that crude, slowing down development of the tar sands, and costing the extractive fossil fuel industries money. It might not break the bank, but in the absence of an “official” price on carbon, it’s the best course that climate activists can take.

Now climate hawks have to remain vigilant to ensure that the Keystone XL pipeline is never built, and none of the other proposed efforts to expand the tar sands development for export markets can be tolerated either.  With the news today from the International Energy Agency that the world is headed for irreversible climate change in the next five years unless we rapidly change our energy system, the planet can't afford the development of the tar sands.

Don't take my word for it, here it is in the words of the IEA's chief economist:

“The door is closing,” Fatih Birol, chief economist at the International Energy Agency, said. “I am very worried – if we don't change direction now on how we use energy, we will end up beyond what scientists tell us is the minimum [for safety]. The door will be closed forever.” 


Sounds like he’s going to kill it but he doesn’t want to lose the election over it, so if he wins again it probably gets canceled and if he loses it still has a chance.

Economically this is suicide for America. Politically this will no doubt help Obama as he does not have to alienate his watermelon base before the next election. Hansen will still be out knocking doors for Obama.

This may have the perverse effect of making Obama unelectable. Tough to talk about jobs when you just delayed 20 -100 thousand of them.

We will see.

Valero refineries are planning to export the crude they extract from the Tarsands.

It may or may not be going to the US.  And it could very well be heading to China.

Valero is planning on exporting more refined products, not crude.  

A barrel of oil is 42 gallons, out of which refiners can squeeze about 20 gallons of gasoline, about 10 gallons of distillate fuel oil and 4 gallons of kerosene (jet fuel). The last 8 gallons is marketable, but the US simply does not consume all of the diesel, kerosene and heavy fractional distillates we produce. If we produce these refined products in the ratios we do and do not use all of them, what do you suggest we do with them? Landfill them or sell them to someone who does sue them? Your conclusion is based on ignorance … nothing more.

Their Spetember Investor Presentation (page 37) stated specifically that they upgraded the Port Arthur facility;

“Main unit is 60,000 barrels/day hydrocracker plus facilities to process over 150,000 barrels/day of high-acid, heavy sour Canadian crude”

“Main products are high-quality diesel and jet fuel for growing global demand for middle distillates”

“Located at large, Gulf Coast refinery to leverage existing operations and export logistics”

Sooo…. We’re processing Tar Sands strictly to export Diesel?


No, not strictly for “export Diesel” although that will be one of the byproducts. You can crack hydrocarbons all you want, but there are thermodynamic limits on yields for marketable products.

Still going to stand by the “we are exporting tar sands crude” red herring?

“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.”

Nope. The decision is a testament to the power of PR. This decision means the fix is in. Delaying the pipeline is a way to get the issue off the daily top 5 news stories. By the time the election is over, most people will have forgotten about it, and if not, it will be too late to mobilize around the issue again. Also by the time the election comes around, whoever wins will have had time to work out a new strategy to approve the pipeline. So, yes, I also agree that “the battle isn’t over yet”. However, the war is lost. Backroom deals have already been made.

This is classic gamesmanship. It’s a time-tested, well-worn tactic used all the time by governments in conjunction with forest companies, energy companies, mining companies, fish farming companies, chemical companies, etc. Delay approval of permits (for more ‘studies’), diffuse public outcry, buy time, launch pro-industry PR campaign, soften up opposition, then approve permit. 

Thousands of jobs funded entirely by private capital, a new oil supply from a friendly ally that we share a 4,000 undefended border with and its killed because our coward in chief wants to vote present? I couldn’t imagine how that would be an election issue. What, with unemployment so low and gasoline as cheap as it is.

Seriously…  Obama caused all this?

It seems the global melt down began a year before Obama had to clean it up.

So Bush and his Republicans axed some 15 million jobs.  Sure… you can sign up for more of that.  “Please sir, can I have some more?”  And you’re having a hissy fit over 6000 jobs?  Why aren’t burning effigies of Bush?

I know!  Maybe you can invade America, and put the population to work by winning their hearts and minds!

Bush can be blamed for being a big government guy especially as he caved to pressure to save the economy with bailouts. Obama is another big government guy as they all are. Preventing immediate pain is possible and helpful in winning elections but long term economic pain just can’t be fixed by borrowing.

Just because someone is critical of Obama doesn’t make him an admirer of Bush. None of them are doing it right.