tar sands

News Not to Miss: Oil Train Spill, China Petrochemical Deal, Methane Leaks

Read time: 4 mins
Oil train cars

It's hard to keep up with the flood of news these days. Here's your weekly round-up of news not to miss from DeSmog.

Justin Mikulka has been on the oil train beat for years. He's documented how the oil boom and pipeline bottleneck in the Bakken Shale has led to more, longer, and heavier trains shuttling oil across North America and how various factors also have led to another type of boom: the literal “boom” of exploding oil trains. (In fact, train operators have given them the nickname “bomb trains.”)

This week, Mikulka writes about the latest oil train incident, this time involving a BNSF train carrying tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, across northwestern Iowa.

Why the Koch Network Took Credit for Dakota Access, Keystone XL, and REINS Act

Read time: 6 mins
Koch brothers

A leaked memorandum published by The Intercept and Documented Investigations shows that a Koch Industries' donors network, known as the Seminar Network, has taken credit for Donald Trump approving the permits for both the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines during the first months of his presidency. The memo also applauded efforts by the Koch network's Americans for Prosperity (AFP) chapter in Wisconsin to pass a deregulatory measure there known as the REINS Act. The Seminar Network, which meets secretly twice a year, is made up of donors who give at least $100,000 toward Koch-led political and philanthropic efforts.

Koch Industries has a business interest in both pipelines, though their approval has not been something its funded network has widely discussed. Quietly, though, Koch has advocated for the pair of pipelines in regulatory hearings in both Iowa for Dakota Access — as previously reported by DeSmog — as well as in Canada, as reported in 2012 by InsideClimate News.

Inside the Trump Admin's Fight to Keep the Keystone XL Approval Process Secret

Read time: 6 mins
Donald Trump signing presidential order to expedite the permit review of the Keystone XL pipeline

At a February 21 hearing, a U.S. District Court judge ruled that the Trump administration must either fork over documents showing how the U.S. Department of State reversed an earlier decision and ultimately came to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, or else provide a substantial legal reason for continuing to withhold them. The federal government has an order to deliver the goods, one way or the other, by March 21.

DeSmog has reviewed the court evidence from the environmental groups bringing the case, records which help illuminate their argument that the government is, in fact, withholding such documents. The judge will decide if those documents, legally, should be made public.

Mexico's Standing Rock? Sempra, TransCanada Face Indigenous Pipeline Resistance South of Border

Read time: 5 mins
A group of Yaqui people in a pavilion

Since Mexico privatized its oil and gas resources in 2013, border-crossing pipelines including those owned by Sempra Energy and TransCanada have come under intense scrutiny and legal challenges, particularly from Indigenous peoples.

Opening up the spigot for U.S. companies to sell oil and gas into Mexico was a top priority for the Obama State Department under Hillary Clinton.

Mexico is now facing its own Standing Rock-like moment as the Yaqui Tribe challenges Sempra Energy's Agua Prieta pipeline between Arizona and the Mexican state of Senora. The Yaquis in the village of Loma de Bacum claim that the Mexican government has failed to consult with them adequately, as required by Mexican law.

India May Ban Petcoke, One of Dirtiest Fossil Fuels Exported by Koch Brothers

Read time: 5 mins
Petcoke stockpiles

While U.S. power plants have considered petroleum coke or “petcoke to be too dirty to burn, India, on the other hand, has been importing this coal by-product of tar sands refining for years. However, it may be seeing its last days in the country which has served as its biggest importer.

In the aftermath of an Associated Press investigation published on December 1, India's Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Dharmendra Pradhan has said the country is formulating plans to phase out petcoke imports. The AP investigation, filed from New Delhi, revealed that citizens who live near petcoke refining facilities have come down with a range of air pollution-related illnesses in recent months and years.

The AP also points out that among the largest exporters of U.S. petcoke are Koch Industries subsidiary Koch Carbon and Oxbow Carbon, the latter of which is owned by the twin brother of David Koch, Bill Koch. The advocacy group Oil Change International referred to petcoke as “the coal hiding in the tar sands” in a 2013 report documenting the carbon footprint of petcoke production and combustion.

Montana Eased Regulations for Keystone XL After Lobbying by TransCanada

Read time: 5 mins
TransCanada oil pipelines visible above ground with a sign

As President Trump's State Department took steps to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, the project's owner, TransCanada, lobbied on two bills in Montana which will ease the company's regulatory burden in the state. 

Those bills, HB 365 and SB 109, moved along in the state's legislature with no media coverage despite the state being the first crossed in the pipeline's proposed journey from Alberta, Canada to Steele City, Nebraska. HB 365, which passed in May, will allow TransCanada to escape civil liability for any potential damages suffered by its contracted land surveyors. Meanwhile, SB 109 would have required environmental reviews for infrastructure projects in Montana to consider impacts beyond state lines, but failed to pass.

Keystone XL Pipeline Gets New Push From Revolving Door Team of Lobbyists

Read time: 3 mins
Keystone XL pipeline under construction

A changing of the guard in the White House, with President Donald Trump taking the helm, has spawned a hiring spree of new lobbyists to advocate for TransCanada's long-contested Keystone XL pipeline.

In the forefront, TransCanada has hired the firm CGCN Group — former employer of Trump's top White House energy adviser, Mike Catanzaro — to lobby for Keystone with a two-person team. TransCanada has also hired a duo of in-house lobbyists, one who worked as a Democratic congressional staffer and another who worked for a Republican, to make the case for the pipeline.

TransCanada's new team of lobbyists serves as a departure from recent years, in which teams of lobbyists and public relations professionals tied to the Democratic Party and President Barack Obama went to bat for Keystone. Keystone XL landed its long-desired presidential permit from President Trump in January, but now faces the specter of a lack of sufficient market demand for oil from the Alberta tar sands.

Goldman Sachs-backed Firm Invests Big in Shipping Tar Sands by Train Along Keystone XL Route

Read time: 7 mins
Oil train tank cars

USD Partners, a rail terminal operator owned in part by Wall Street giant Goldman Sachs, has signed a nearly three year deal to facilitate moving tar sands by train from where it is extracted in Alberta, Canada, to an offloading terminal in Stoud, Oklahoma, in a route mirroring that of the Keystone XL pipeline.

From Stroud, the heavy oil can be sent via pipeline to the nearby oil storage hub in Cushing, Oklahoma. USD's announcement, which said the company could transport up to 70,000 barrels per day of tar sands in rail cars, came in a June 2 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

The deal, centering around the purchase of the Stroud terminal, also included the acquisition of 300,000 barrels of storage space in Cushing, a town known by oil and gas industry observers as the “pipeline crossroads of the world.” 

Introducing Biochar: Climate Change Solution or Greenwash Nightmare?

Read time: 4 mins
Person holding biochar in hand

After years of investigating biochar, which promoters have touted as a potential climate change fix, DeSmog is releasing its findings on the science, claims, and controversy surrounding this approach to sequestering carbon. 

Biochar is the product of plant or animal products (biomass) undergoing pyrolysis, a high-heat chemical reaction, to convert the carbon-containing biomass to a stable, non-decomposing form of charcoal. Introduced to mainstream audiences in a Time Magazine article from December 2008, biochar as a climate geoengineering technology has hit a number of peaks and valleys since then. In that time, its best chances at reaching commercial scales so far have failed, according to a new DeSmog report, Biochar: Climate Change Solution or False Hope?

Biochar's failure to date is due to a number of reasons, such as the lack of scientific consensus surrounding its ability to sequester carbon indefinitely, the vast amounts of land needed to produce biochar at a large enough scale to affect the climate, and the lack of legislative or regulatory frameworks required for investment in commercial-level production. 

Biochar 101: Climate Savior or False Hope?

If someone told you a charred black substance could help save the planet from the worst ravages of climate change, it'd be hard to believe, yet foolhardy to ignore.

Biochar, a form of carbon sequestration, has been sold by its promoters as an almost magical way to reverse climate change. Yet not only was the marketing protocol that would help scale up biochar production in the U.S. rejected by science peer reviewers in March 2015, but big oil companies like ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil — among the biggest climate change culprits — also have made a big bet that they can use biochar to “offset” their carbon pollution footprint.

Read time: 7 mins

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