Nel's New Day

May 7, 2015

Really Big Deals! Alberta, NSA Surveillance, Arizona

U.S. conservatives have waged war for years against the president to allow the Keystone XL Pipeline across the country, moving oil from Alberta to Texas where it would be shipped out of the country to benefit wealthy people like the Koch brothers. After winning the Congress in last fall’s election, the GOP passed approval for the pipeline in both chambers; the president has still not taken any action.

Just a few months after this grand success, Albert overwhelmingly voted in the party that plans to force the gas and oil industries to pay their fair share of taxes and royalty payments and phase out coal power. It also plans to cut back pipeline projects. For almost one-half century, Big Oil and the Tories (oxymoronically called the Progressive Conservative Party) had been in charge. The election took the number of New Democratic Party (NDP) seats in Alberta’s legislature from four to 53 of the 87-seat legislature while the Conservatives (blue in the following chart) fell from 70 seats to third place with 10 seats, following the rightest Wildrose Party that took 21 seats.

chart-alberta-2015-election-resultsDave Weigel of Bloomberg, explained the tremendous change in the Canadian province known as “the Texas of Canada.”

“Imagine if Democrats took not only Texas Governor, but supermajority control of [the] Legislature and all state offices. That’s what [Alberta’s election] is like in Canada.”

As for the pipeline, premier-elect Rachel Notley pledged to stop lobbying Congress for its construction because poorly-regulated production of tar sands oil has made Alberta the biggest producer of climate-changing gases in Canada. Most of the oil coming from Alberta, 78 percent of Canada’s oil, comes from the extraction of dirty tar sands oil, which releases much larger amounts of greenhouse emissions than the regular production of oil. Unlike regular oil, the thick mixture of sand, water, clay and bitumen is extracted from the ground by “non-conventional” methods that are more carbon-intensive. Companies get the oil by digging up the tar sand and heating it with water or injecting steam underground. Making the steam requires a great deal of extra energy. Alberta’s extraction of tar sands produces more greenhouse gasses than transportation throughout Canada because of extremely weak regulations.

Alberta’s current premier, Jim Prentice, is immediately resigning and quitting his legislative seat. In this position for less than eight months, he called a snap election to get a mandate in a tax-raising budget after the drastic drop in oil prices caused a $7-billion hole in government finances. Prentice’s budget raised taxes and fees for everyone except corporations and ran a $5-billion deficit. When his female opponent challenged him for not raising corporate taxes, Prentice responded, “Math is difficult.” The election was a year earlier than necessary, but Prentice hoped to get a four-year term with what he perceived as weakened opposition.

The Conservative Party’s loss in Alberta may damage the re-election of Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a Conservative member in that position for the past nine years. Harper came out of the oil industry and lives in Alberta.

Investors, who had ignored the polls warning them of the shift in the political weather, are stunned, and Canada’s main stock index fell sharply on the day after the election because of large losses among energy companies.

The new controlling party may increase oil royalties, at this time between 25 and 40 percent of the companies’ profits. Texas charges 25 percent, one-fourth more than any other state in the U.S. while Norway charges about 80 percent of profits. The NDP plans at the least to make the royalty process more transparent and also raise the corporate tax rate from 10 percent to 12 percent. Between 2011 and 2014, Alberta’s oil-sands production increased from 1.5 million barrels per day to 2 million barrels per day. It could double to 4.3 million barrels per day by 2023 although the recent oil price crash may change that prediction. An increase in royalties would only affect future projects because operation is far less than upfront investment in oil sands projects.

Referring to the election, one commentator said, “Pigs do fly.”

Pigs flew as well in the United States today. For the first time ever, a court has ruled against the NSA massive surveillance. A three-judge panel of the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York unanimously rejected the National Security Agency’s program on collecting and storing bulk information on telephone calls by overturning an earlier ruling that the surveillance could not be subject to judicial review. According to Josh Gerstein, the panel ruled that “allowing the government to gather data in a blanket fashion was not consistent with the statute used to carry out the program: Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act.”

Currently, NSA is gathering and storing all data to search later if it sees a need, an act that the panel found to be illegal. The judges used the clause that “the tangible things sought are relevant to an authorized investigation” to make its ruling against the NSA because there was no discussion of relevance in the collected data. They explained that Congress did have the opportunity to authorize “such a far-reaching and unprecedented program … unambiguously.” This may not happen because the House wants to replace the bulk record collection with “a new program that would preserve the ability to analyze links between callers to hunt for terrorists but keep the bulk records in the hands of phone companies.” Last year, the House passed a bill to disallow the bulk collection, but the Senate refused to take it up. GOP Senators continue to prefer the status quo.

Today’s decision didn’t strike down the NSA program; instead it sent the problem back to a lower court. The ruling also didn’t end the collection while Congress debates the issue. The provision under discussion expires on June 1. With no decision by then, NSA has no justification after that for its actions. Without a law from Congress, the legal dispute about the constitutionality of NSA’s collection/storage will continue.

The ruling also covertly warned Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) who wants to allow the massive database collection by merely re-authorizing an unmodified Section 215:

“There will be time then to address appellants’ constitutional issues…. We hold that the text of section 215 cannot bear the weight the government asks us to assign to it, and that it does not authorize the telephone metadata program.”

Without Edward Snowden’s leaks about the NSA database, the U.S. public would have no knowledge about NSA’s surveillance. In 2013, Snowden leaked a court order to Verizon to produce “all call detail records or ‘telephony metadata’’ relating to Verizon communications within the United States or between the United States and abroad.” The federal government has not opposed the claim that “all significant service providers in the United States are subject to similar orders.” The Circuit Court used the phrase that “the tangible things sought are relevant to an authorized investigation” to make its ruling against the NSA because there was no discussion of relevance in the collected data.

One final piece of good news—an Arizona judge has ruled that Dreamers, the Latino youth in the United States because of DACA, are in this country lawfully because federal law, not state law, determines the legality. A 2012 executive order created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program for young people who had been brought to the United States illegally as children. According to the court decision, DACA residents in Arizona are to pay in-state tuition for the Maricopa County Community Colleges instead of out-of-state tuition which can be almost four times as much as the in-state costs. Arizona community colleges lost 15,000 enrollees when DACA students couldn’t afford to pay $355 per credit. The current attorney general, Mark Brnovich, is considering whether to appeal, and the decision affects only Maricopa County, covering much of Phoenix, but the Maricopa County Judge started a movement that may have great repercussions.


February 11, 2015

GOP Alienates Latino Voters, Fails to Govern

The House passed the Senate version of the Keystone pipeline bill today, meaning that the measure now goes to the president, hopefully for his veto. With all except three GOP members voting in favor of the bill, it would have passed without the 29 Democrats, but it’s hard for me to accept that the representative for my district in Oregon was one of these 29 Democrats. His vote was predictable, however, because he had already voted in favor of the earlier bill and published an op-ed piece in Portland’s The Oregonian explaining his reason for the votes. He begins by explaining his need to write the piece because of the “ ‘fan’ mail” that he recently received from “very liberal groups chastising me from voting in a bipartisan manner in Congress.”

As an author of some of that “fan” mail, I want to tell him that I don’t mind his being bipartisan; I mind his voting for a measure with the sole purpose of benefiting one company by moving Canadian tar sands oil across the United States so that the wealthy will become wealthier. I mind his endangering the land and water of the states between Canada and Texas so that he can “work with Republicans.”

Fortunately Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR) voted against the House bill that connects the elimination of President Obama’s immigration reform actions to the funding of the Department of Homeland Security. In a snit last year following years of inaction, the House decided that it would force a vote for this funding before February 28, 2015 after passing the other funding last December for almost a year.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has decided to get tough because the Senate hasn’t taken action on his DHS appropriations bill that tucks anti-immigrant proposals into a funding bill. The amendments subjecting all undocumented immigrants to more enforcement scrutiny will receive separate votes, but conservatives backing the amendments threaten to vote against the funding if their provisions don’t pass. The proposals would:

  • Eliminate funding for President Obama’s executive action to allow some illegal immigrants to stay in the country and obtain work permits.
  • Stop the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA), which lifts deportation for some illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children.
  • Prioritize deportation for illegal immigrants convicted of sexual abuse and domestic violence.
  • Promote the hiring of U.S. citizens above those who are in the country illegally.
  • Express the sense of Congress the administration should “stop putting the interest of immigrants who worked within the legal framework to come to the US behind those who came here illegally” by not granting deferred action or work permits to undocumented immigrants.

Other parts of the amendments would stop Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from prioritizing the deportation of criminals over undocumented immigrants who haven’t committed serious crimes and ignore a person’s ties to the United States over citizens.

During a news conference, Boehner demanded, “Now why don’t you go ask the Senate Democrats when they’re gonna get off their ass and do something other than to vote no!” This from the man who refused to allow immigration reform to go to the House for almost two years after the Senate passed its immigration reform. Four times he repeated, “The House did its job.” Boehner had no problem with the GOP in the Senate causing gridlock for the past four years by doing nothing but voting no.

For years, conservatives have complained because the Democrats did nothing with their “majority” in the Senate. Now Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell admits that the House bill is “clearly stuck in the Senate” and Republican control in the Senate has resulted in another impasse. The Senate can’t pass the House bill, and Boehner says that the House won’t shift from its position.

An increasing number of Republicans in the House are refusing to vote for extremist positions or indicate opposition to these. Rep. Jeff Dunham (R-CA) said the language of the amendments, authored by right-wing Marcia Blackburn (R-TN), is an “overreach,” and another House GOP member called it “mean-spirited.” Other GOP members of Congress, however, are indifferent to any problems that they cause. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) said that not meeting the deadline is “not the end of the world.”

DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson disagrees with Diaz-Balart about the seriousness of not funding the agency:

“Right now, the Department of Homeland Security is operating on a continuing resolution, which means that we are allowed to spend money until February 27th – at the same rate we spent money last year. That means that as long as we are on a C.R., we cannot engage in new starts, new spending, new initiatives, new grants to state and local law enforcement to fund homeland security missions. We can’t put in place the independent panel that recommended changes to the secret service has suggested we do. We can’t do a lot of things for border security. Our counterterrorism efforts are limited.”

With all their waffling about the Homeland Security funding, Congress has only six “working” days to pass the appropriation before February 27 because they go on recess during the last week of the month. If they fail to fund the Department of Home Security, only the Citizenship and Immigration Services would still be able to pay its employees because it is funded through fees and not Congressional appropriations.

Less than one month into the 114th Congress, Republicans have not only failed to show that they can govern responsibly and cooperatively but also managed to offend Hispanic voters which they lost two to one in the last presidential election. Meanwhile terrorists are cheering on the GOP in their blocking funding to keep the United States safe.

February 3, 2015

Keystone Pipeline, Environmental Disaster Instead of Jobs

Before all the hoopla about vaccinations and the president’s budget, the Senate passed the Keystone XL pipeline by 62 to 36 with the support of nine Democrats. It’s not a done deal yet because there has to be a coordination with the House bill, but it’s sure to head for the president’s desk, hopefully for his veto pen. An accurate tweet from Charles Gaba stated that more senators voted to build the pipeline from Canada to Texas than jobs that the completed project would provide. (That’s 35 jobs, if you’ve forgotten.) With the real economic benefits in our neighbor to the north, Josh Green joked that it’s “kind of nuts” that GOP congressional legislators are “fighting for the Canadian economy.

Once again, the objections to the pipeline to transport tar sands oil across the U.S. to be shipped overseas:

  • It is environmentally hazardous. (More about that later.)
  • It has no impact on already low gas prices. (Actually it might raise them.)
  • It won’t help the U.S. unemployment rate.

As Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) said, “This is the only time in the history of the Senate that we have given such a big hug and kiss to a company, any private company, American or foreign.”

Why do Republicans want just that one oil project so much? To them, it’s a symbol. To them it has become The Most Important Project in the World. The GOP has no jobs agenda and no economic vision. Voting on the Keystone pipeline keeps conservatives from noticing that pesky little fact. They spent millions and millions of dollars spent on getting control of the Senate, and all they got so far is the Keystone bill that the president has promised to veto.

Yesterday was the deadline for eight federal agencies to provide feedback to the Department of State about the project. Those officials will take all that stuff to Secretary of State John Kerry who will think about the project and make a recommendation to President Obama who will then think about it for a while before a final decision. The EPA weighed in by writing that there is “no way” that building the Keystone XL pipeline would not have a significant effect on climate.

The nine Democrats who voted for the Keystone pipeline are Sens. Michael Bennet (CO), Tom Carper (DE), Bob Casey (PA), Joe Donnelly (IN), Heidi Heitkamp (ND), Joe Manchin (WV), Claire McCaskill (MO), Jon Tester (MT), and Mark Warner (VA). These are the people terrified of being called tree huggers.

The Keystone bill had 43 amendments in the Senate. Six passed, and the others, including one that would require the steel used in the pipeline be made in the United States, failed. That amendment was also a jobs amendment, but the GOP voted it down. The amendment to keep the oil from the pipeline in the United States also failed. As Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said, “Time and time again Republicans pledge their allegiance to foreign special interests above the American middle class.”

Republicans are also comfortable with a foreign company seizing land in the United States.   In order for the pipeline to cross Nebraska, TransCanada has filed papers to seize property from the 12 percent of holdouts by eminent domain.  Meanwhile Ernie Chambers, a state legislator, has introduced a bill to repeal the pipeline-siting law that would stop the project.

Republicans preened themselves for outdoing the Democrats after an amendment about climate change passed the Senate by 98-1: the 98 agreed that climate exchange exists. Mississippi’s Roger Wicker was the one holdout. Five Senate Republicans were brave enough to vote that humans affect climate change, probably because many of them are from “blue” states. Only two GOP senators, however, were willing to go on the record that humans “significantly” contribute to climate change—Mark Kirk (IL) and Kelly Ayotte (NH). The irony of Republicans voting against any human affect on climate change is that these are the same people who complain about China’s not reducing carbon emissions enough to make any difference in the climate.

What can go wrong with the Keystone pipeline that crosses a huge amount of water necessary for crops, livestock, and people in the United State? Events just this past January show the danger.

For the second time in less than four years, a spill in Montana sent up to 50,000 gallons of Bakken shale crude oil into the Yellowstone River. After the January 17 event, people in Glendive were told not to use any municipal water because it contains high levels of cancer-causing benzene. At least that’s what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told the residents; state officials initially told people that there was no problem with the water. Oil was spotted as far away as Sidney, 60 miles distant. ExxonMobil still hasn’t paid the damages for the 63,000 gallons spilled into the same river in July 2011. The Keystone XL pipeline is scheduled to pass through or near the property belonging to some people impacted by the current spill. A member of the Northern Plains Resource Council said, “The whole question is, should we continue to be having pipelines under aquifers and under surface water? It is not a good idea and not safe. There is no fail-safe pipeline.”

The Yellowstone River empties into the Missouri River. The Keystone XL pipeline would be three times the 12-foot diameter of the breached Bridger pipeline and pump more than 34 million gallons of oil per day through the Dakotas down into Nebraska and into the southern leg in Oklahoma and Texas.

Five days later, it was discovered that 3 million gallons of saltwater drilling waste had spilled from a North Dakota pipeline. Officials won’t know what affects the briny spill will have on water sources, land, and wildlife until all the ice melts. Chloride concentrations in one affected creek are much higher than usual, even as it fills with fresh water. The escaped brine that contains heavy metals and radioactive material is possibly 17 times saltier than seawater. Last July’s much smaller spill contaminated soil and killed vegetation. Because the only way to clean up brine spills is flushing them with freshwater, that source becomes depleted. The million-gallon brine spill in 2006 killed fish and forced ranchers to move. The spill has still not been cleaned up. The year 2013 saw over 800 saltwater spills in North Dakota.

west virginia pipeline explodesTen days after the Yellowstone spill, a pipeline in West Virginia near the Ohio River exploded. Two years ago, a report on another West Virginia gas line explosion in the Christian Science Monitor was subtitled “Just a Drop in the Disaster Bucket.” That explosion burned for more than an hour and melted four lanes of I-77. About 80 incidents in 2012 involving natural gas transmission lines may have been worse because of few inspectors. Explosions in gas distribution lines caused nine fatalities and 21 injuries. The 321,000 miles of gas transmission pipelines have funding for just over 100 inspectors who also are responsible for another two million miles of gas distribution pipelines.

That’s the fourth major pipeline incident in just the first month of 2015. The first one was a gas explosion in Mississippi.

Spills from the Keystone pipeline would be much harder to clean up than from the traditional oil or gas pipeline. The thicker, sludgier tar sands oil doesn’t float on top of the water like conventional crude; instead it sinks to the bottom, including the Ogallala aquifer if it spilled into Nebraska’s major source of water. The media largely avoided reporting on any of these disasters while the Keystone XL pipeline was being considered.

These are some of the jobs that the Keystone XL pipeline might provide:  wildlife washers, oil spill cleanup crew members, lawyers, plumbers, fisherpeople for huge mutant fish, water truck delivery drivers to replace tap water, whistleblowers, and genetic engineers to help people survive cancers.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski likes the Keystone vote because it’s good for the spirit of cooperation. It’s just not good for the people in the United States. The House will vote on the Senate bill this next week.

November 18, 2014

Senate Denies Keystone Pipeline

The senate Republicans lost the Keystone XL pipeline—for now. In an effort to get Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) re-elected, 14 Democrats voted for the bill to support the movement of tar sands crude oil from Canada across the United States to the Texas coast where it gets shipped overseas. The proposed route endangers a large percentage of fresh water in the United States, something that 41 senators understood. The 59 votes were short just one needed to clear a filibuster.

Sen. Angus King (I-ME) said, “Congress is not — nor should it be — in the business of legislating the approval or disapproval of a construction project.” Debate lasted six hours. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) said, “From my state’s point of view, it’s all harm.” Sixty votes would have overridden the authority of the State Department to determine the pipeline’s fate.

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said that his GOP members are “committed to getting Keystone approved,” and that party has next year’s majority. The question is whether Democrats will vote the same way if they’re not trying to save Landrieu’s seat. Even the 63 votes that McConnell hopes for don’t make the bill veto-proof.

Keystone pipeline information you might not find in the mainstream media:

Jobs: Russ Girling, CEO of TransCanda that wants to build the Keystone XL pipeline, finally admitted the project would have only 50 jobs after it is built, but he tried to praise the nearly 9,000 jobs for the building. That’s actually fewer than 4,500 jobs per year. And TransCanada has finally admitted it. Keep these numbers in mind when the GOP and Blue Dog Dems promise “jobs, jobs, jobs.” There won’t be any jobs from making the steel pipe because those have already been purchased—from India.

Landrieu: Democrats who think that voting in favor of the pipeline need to consider that not one job—out of either the 3,900 in building the pipeline for a couple of years or the 50 jobs to maintain it after that—will be in Louisiana. Do they think that the state’s voters are so dumb that they’ll vote for Landrieu to get a few jobs in other states while their own gas prices go up?

Oil Spills: During the past four months, there have been 90 pipeline spills reported. Reports come from the corporations that own the pipeline, and not one reported found any affect on wildlife or waterways. It’s a miracle! Or more likely bad reporting from the companies in charge of admitting they screwed up.

War: The pipeline’s current trajectory crosses the Great Sioux Nation (Oceti Sakowin) Treaty lands, Rosebud Sioux Reservation in South Dakota, and Congress failed to consult with this Native American nation. Tribal President Cyril Scott of the Rosebud Sioux (Sicangu Lakota Oyate) reservation declared last week’s House vote to authorize the pipeline an “act of war” on a “sovereign nation” because it breaks the treaty.

Starting in January, the GOP will earn its nickname of “Grand Oil Party.” New Jersey governor, Chris Christie, has a plan to eliminate any federal oversight of constructing border-crossing pipelines. McConnell plans to stop the EPA from any carbon restraints on the use of coal, ban federal oversight of fracking, allow drilling off the shores of Alaska and Virginia, and sell all the U.S. crude oil and liquefied natural gas (LNG) out of the country.

Republicans have a vision that depleting the country of resources and using it for a fossil fuels conduit from Canada for sale overseas will build national power and prestige. Christie’s foreign policy was introduced in Mexico which plans to allow U.S. firms to develop its oil and gas fields for the first time since 1938.

In order to accomplish their agenda—and continue to fill their coffers from oil and gas companies—Republicans must continue their strong denial of any climate change. The oil and gas industry was the ninth largest supplier of campaign funds for the last election cycle, sending 87 percent of the $51 million to Republican candidates. Koch Industries provided $9.4 million of that donation. The coal industry sent another $10 million, 95 percent to the same party. Koch Industries provided $9.4 million of that donation. This money is only the tip of the iceberg of donations to conservatives. Secretive super PACs and supposedly non-profit are not bound by rules of direct donations. Two years ago, the Koch brothers send $407 million to these political groups, and they certainly sent as much, if not more, this year.

Leading recipients of this money were House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and McConnell as well as Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO), who just took a senate seat for the coming year from environmental Mark Udall. Coal money went to both Boehner and McConnell as well as helping elect Reps. Shelley Moore Capito and David McKinley (R-WV).

Energy drives the economies in the 13 red states that export more than they import: Wyoming, West Virginia, Texas, North Dakota, New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma, Alaska, Pennsylvania, Montana, Arkansas, Utah, and Kentucky. In the upcoming Congress, 19 of the 26 senators from these states are Republicans; one is an independent. Five of the states drove out Democrats in the senate this year. All the GOP senators will be trying to remove any federal regulations in the coming year because states have far more lax policies.

The GOP also wants massive fossil fuel extraction because members believe that it provides greater security. “Saudi America” should lower the cost of energy in the United States and give the nation more control in dealing with Iran and Russia. The current ban on exporting crude oil was adopted 40 years ago because of the Arab oil embargo of 1973-74. Exports of LNG is controlled by the lack of facilities and regulations that block rapid construction. Oil and gas are more expensive in Europe and Asia, and the industry wants to make money through exports. At the same time, integrating the North American oil systems would give U.S. companies much greater control of Mexican and Canadian production.

People who voted for GOP candidates because of promises of greater energy production at home didn’t understand that diverting output to foreign countries will cause prices in the U.S. to rise. Massive exports will also increase greenhouse gas emissions around the world. The result is a fossil-fuels-forever planet—at least briefly until everyone dies.

Almost all scientists, at least 97 percent of them, agree that the planet cannot be heated more than an average increase of 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit during this century. The GOP carbon agenda raises that number by two to three times, making parts of the planet uninhabitable and causing deadly shortages in food and water. Although the warming seems to have slowed down during the past few years, the oceans are absorbing the heat almost as much as possible. The warming will soon resume, and the GOP plans to accelerate the process.

Some people who know how destructive the pipeline is would vote for it with the excuse that stopping the pipeline won’t stop the Koch brothers from producing the crude oil that is taking down the planet. These people could be compared to a person hired to kill someone else, that if they don’t do it, somebody else will. It’s a pitiful excuse to obliterate the only world we have.

November 14, 2014

Keystone Pipeline Passes House, Goes to Senate

The Keystone XL pipeline passed the House of Representatives today for a ninth time. The vote this time was 252 to 161 with 31 Democrats supporting the measure. Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) voted “present.” The proposed 1,660 pipeline from Koch brothers tar sands in Canada to the refineries that will then ship the processed crude overseas has been touted as a jobs effort. President Obama described the project best:

“Understand what this project is: It is providing the ability of Canada to pump their oil, send it through our land down to the Gulf where it will be sold everywhere else.”

The senate plans a vote on this coming Tuesday, November 18. Some Democratic senators think that voting for the pipeline will protect Sen. Mary Landrieu’s (D-LA) position. On December 6, her state will decide between her and Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), lead sponsor of the House bill. Landrieu is the underdog because her two conservative opponents collectively received more votes than she did in the November 4 election.

Newly elected Senate Majority Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said that the number of jobs created by the project is “stunning.” For once I agree with him. The pipeline will provide only 35 jobs after the two-year construction. Fox and Friends fill-in host Anna Kooiman followed the network’s message of “tens of thousands of jobs created” for the $8 billion pipeline, but the actual number is far fewer than that. The State Department estimates 10,400 seasonal workers for either four or eight months, a total of 3,900 “average annual” jobs over one year. That’s 3,900 full-time jobs each year for building the pipeline, a number which shrinks to 35 after two years when the pipeline is finished. The “related” 26,100 jobs may not add employees because these are in areas already filled—lodging, food, entertainment, health care, etc.

Canada is suffering from the concentration on oil extraction because it makes the economy dependent on the price of oil. Even worse, the oil industry has undermined democracy by insisting that anyone in opposition is unpatriotic. The system works the same in the United States as McConnell insists that this nation is dependent on the pipeline for jobs. In fact, McConnell is dependent on the pipeline for his job.

As in the United States, Canada’s federal conservative caucus is composed largely of politicians who deny climate science. They have slashed financing in that area, closed facilities researching climate change, and silenced government climate scientists.

Energy-East-PipelineA month ago, there was hope that Canada had decided to transport its Alberta tar sands east, avoiding huge aquifers in both the United States and Canada. The plan is to go east near Toronto and end before the Nova Scotia aquifer. The Energy East Pipeline could be effected by converting about 1,800 miles of existing natural gas pipeline to transporting the tar sands crude. Canada could benefit from taking this route because of Russia’s problems with the Ukraine. If the oil were sent east, it could be sold to Europe and Ukraine if Russia pulls its oil from that region.

Another argument against building the pipeline is the dropping cost of oil, down 25 percent from last summer to $74.42 a barrel yesterday. Anything below $65 will make production in Canadian oil sands infeasible.  New projects would require $85 a barrel.

In the United States, the pipeline will most likely drive up gas prices. The oil bypasses Midwest refineries to those in the Gulf, where it will be shipped to more lucrative markets overseas. That means less oil in this country and thus higher prices.

nebraskaAt this time, Nebraska may be the biggest block to the pipeline. In that conservative bastion of the USA, landowners sued to keep Gov. Dave Heineman from unilaterally approving permits and seizing their property through eminent domain. If they succeed in keeping the Keystone out of their state, the pipeline has nowhere to go. [map] Originally Heineman objected to TransCanada’s path through the Sand Hills region in the western part of the state that sits on top of the freshwater Ogallala Aquifer spanning eight states and providing drinking water for 8,000,000 people. A pipeline rupture, which could easily happen considering pipelines’ histories, would irreversibly pollute 30 percent of the U.S. irrigation groundwater for agriculture. The judge’s decision last February put the permits into the hands of Nebraska’s Public Service Commission. The case was argued before the state Supreme Court in early September with no indication of a decision.

Nebraskans are smart to worry about the aquifer. The tar sands crude has a peanut-butter consistency and must be diluted, generally with carcinogenic benzene, for transport. From 2006 to 2008, pipeline spills occurred at least once a month, and each one of these was worse than the oil train disasters that the media has publicized. Those monthly spills are the ones that people discovered, but there is an estimate that 95 percent of the spills are not identified because of no pipeline alarm systems.

In addition to the spills, new pipes are defective with cracks, pinholes, and dents through poorly welded seams. TransCanada had guaranteed that Keystone Phase I, already operational would leak once in seven years—still a disaster—but it had at least 12 leaks in its first year. Keystone leaks would be on some of the most important farms and ranches in the United States as well as freshwater sources.

The State Department reported that a pinhole leak could release enough benzene to contaminate drinking water for 2 million people for 425 days. A leak would cause farmers to lose everything they have. That’s what happened on March 29, 2013 in Mayflower, Arkansas. Lives of Michigan residents near the Kalamazoo River have been disrupted for years with cleanup costs in the billions after the rupture of a 30-inch diameter crude oil pipeline on July 25, 2010. The proposed Keystone XL uses a 36-inch pipe. In both cases the oil companies ignored any problems with the pipes. In the latter, engineers ignored the alarms for 17 hours until an outsider called to complain.

Tar sands oil companies are exempt from any insurance to cover the costs of cleanup. Companies with conventional oil are required to pay a pittance into a fund for cleanup; crude oil is exempt because it is not “conventional oil.” As people learned from the BP disaster, however, corporations never clean up their messes. Studies that try to show that the tar sands are not more likely to cause pipeline ruptures compared it to similar heavy crudes in Canada instead of the lighter oils previously sent through the U.S. pipeline system.”

Another problem with the tar sands crude is the petroleum coke, or pet coke, resulting from the refining process. Used as a cheap substitute for coal, pet coke sends massive amounts of carbon, sulfur, and other pollutants in the air. In Detroit, refineries just piled up pet coke, up to three stories tall and covering a city block. Nothing was done to control for wind and water runoff, and the company had no permits for the storage. The neighbors had their homes tested and found selenium and vanadium, both of which cause serious respiratory disease. No one took action, even when the water runoff went into the Great Lakes watershed until a plume of pet coke dust moved over Canadian territory in Windsor. Within a month, the pet coke moved to Ohio and also at a Koch brothers site in Chicago.

That amount came from one small refinery. Port Arthur (TX) will suffer 30 times that problem if the Keystone pipeline ships its tar sands crude across the United States. That city already has extremely high rates of cancer, asthma, kidney and liver disease, skin disorders, and other serious health issues because of the toxins that they are forced to breathe. Kids can’t even safely play outside.

In the House 221 Republicans and 31 Democrats voted to sicken and kill the people of the United States and pollute the nation’s land, water, and air. The Keystone XL pipeline is an indicator of the future. Either the United States further commits the country to taking every bit of fossil fuels out of the ground or moves forward on renewable energy.

Fortunately, the votes in Congress are not binding on the president. Because the pipeline crosses an international boundary, the president is the only decider.

July 10, 2014

Fracking Loses in Court, in Science

Environmental exploitation is a sin, according to Pope Francis. His comment this week reflects earlier statements including the comparison of battling climate change to safeguarding creation.  In the United States, the lust for fuel fracking seems to be waning through new laws, court cases, and research.

Municipalities can ban fracking in New York. That was the good news from the state’s Court of Appeals on the same day that the U.S. Supreme Court sent down its Hobby Lobby ruling announcing that corporations have souls. The 5-2 decision confirmed the principle of municipal home rule giving villages and towns the right to manage their affairs without state legislative interference. The 170 anti-fracking measures throughout New York’s municipalities are no longer in limbo and can now take effect.

People in the state are still waiting for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s decision regarding the state’s 2008 temporary moratorium on fracking put in place by former governor David Paterson. Cuomo said that he’s waiting for a report from the State Health Department. Any decision may be moot if energy companies leave the state in disgust, which they seem to be doing.

Last spring, a Pennsylvania judge in the Washington County Court of Common Pleas ruled that corporations don’t have the right to privacy under the commonwealth’s constitution. Newspapers had sued to unseal a confidential settlement in which a family was paid $750,000 after gas drilling had contaminated their water and harmed their health. Until now, fracking companies have used secrecy agreements to hide environmental and health impacts of gas drilling.

The U.S. Supreme Court may have ruled that corporations are persons, but Judge Debbie O’Dell Seneca said that corporations and business entities aren’t the same as people under Pennsylvania’s constitution. She wrote:

“There are no men or woman defendants in the instant case; they are various business entities [and are created by the state and subject to laws, unlike people with natural rights].In the absence of state law, business entities are nothing.” [If businesses had natural rights like people,] “the chattel would become the co-equal to its owners, the servant on par with its masters, the agent the peer of its principles, and the legal fabrication superior to the law that created and sustains it.”

She added that the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment “use of the word ‘person’ that makes its protections applicable to business entities” does not apply to Pennsylvania’s constitution. ” The exact opposite is derived from plain language of Article X of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”

“Not only did our framers know how to employ the names of business entities when and where they wanted them… they used those words to subjugate business entities to the constitution. The framers permitted the Commonwealth to revoke, amend, and repeal ‘[a]ll charters of private corporations’ and any ‘powers, duties or liabilities’ of corporations… If the framers had intended this section [Article 1, Section 8] to shield corporations, limited-liability corporations, or partnerships, the Court presumes that they could and would have used those words. The plain meaning of ‘people’ is the living, breathing humans in this Commonwealth.”

The Court held that businesses do have legal rights protecting them from unreasonable searches and seizure of property, but that’s not the same as a right to personal privacy. “Our Commonwealth’s case law has not established a constitutional right of privacy to shield them from our laws.”

Looking at case law and rulings from other states, the judge held, “This Court found no case establishing a constitutional right of privacy for businesses, and it uncovered only one case that allowed a corporation to assert a state-based right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures in a criminal matter.”

Summing up, she said:

“It is axiomatic that corporations, companies, and partnerships have ‘no spiritual nature,’ ‘feelings,’ ‘intellect,’ ‘beliefs,’ ‘thoughts,’ ’emotions,’ or ‘sensations,’ because they do not exist in the manner that humankind exists… They cannot be ‘let alone’ by government, because businesses are like grapes, ripe upon the vine of the law, that the people of this Commonwealth raise, tend, prune at their pleasure and need.”

Her ruling made fracking companies so desperate that they started offering $50,000 to people who own land in the country to release the corporation from any liability caused by the drilling. Those who take the money cannot sue for health problems, property damage, or other issues such as noise, dust, light, smoke, odors, fumes, soot, air pollution or vibrations. It also covers not only drilling but also anything that they might do in the future including construction of pipelines, power lines, roads, tanks, ponds, pits, compressor stations, houses and buildings.

Although California’s governor, Jerry Brown, is known for being fracking-friendly, Beverly Hills has decided to ban the practice. The first municipality in the state to deny fracking, the city council unanimously decided that it would not be allowed within city limits. Carson City (CA) had already declared a moratorium on fracking, but only for 45 days.

Texas may be oil country, but last year Dallas banned fracking within “1,500 feet of a home, school, church, or well.”  That pretty much covers the entire city.

A jury has awarded a family in Decatur (TX) $2.9 million because of Aruba Petroleum’s irresponsible activities. The Parr family is not the first to suffer nausea, rashes, nosebleeds, and sight and memory impairment, but they are the first to win in court after the jury determined that fracking is dangerous to people’s health. Naturally Aruba is appealing.

New research shows that methane release from drilling operations in southwestern Pennsylvania is 100 to 1,000 times more than federal regulators had estimated. The study contributes to a body of knowledge showing that the EPA has gravely underestimated methane emissions from oil and gas operations. Carbon dioxide from fossil fuels may be the biggest problem with climate change, but methane is about 20 to 30 times more potent in trapping heat in the atmosphere. The U.S. may be producing 50 percent more methane than the EPA has assumed.

Wells leaking the most methane were in the drilling phase, a time not previously known for high emissions. The release comes from underbalanced drilling methods with a lower pressure in the well-bore than the surrounding geology that allows the capture of ethane and butane. EPA investigations are less accurate because energy companies restrict access to wells, pipelines, processing plants, and compressor stations. Colorado became the first state to regulate methane emissions from oil and gas last February.

Another study, published last week in the world’s leading scientific journal Science, has determined that the overwhelming increase in earthquakes throughout Oklahoma is directly connected to fracking and waste-water injection. Before 2008, the state averaged one earthquake of 3.0 or greater each year; in just 2014, the state had more than 230. That’s a 22,900 percent increase after fracking began. Overpressuring a fault system by injecting too much waste water causes tectonic plates in previously stable areas to slip, resulting in not just one earthquake but a number of them because of the distribution of pressures along the entire fault system. Some of these earthquakes may be as far away as 20 miles from the wells that cause the problem. Continued fracking will make the rate of earthquakes much worse.

earthquake increase oklahoma

Earlier this year, Ohio officials linked fracking to a cluster of earthquakes and is imposing new rules. Previously it was thought that earthquakes occurred when water was injected, but these earthquakes were near a site where fracking had begun. If monitors detect an earthquake even as small as 1.0, the state will suspend fracking for an investigation.

In another environmental success, TransCanada’s permit to build the Keystone XL pipeline has expired in South Dakota, and Nebraska’s permit is halted by litigation. These two events block the already-complete portions of the pipeline in Montana and Kansas. TransCanada will have to start the South Dakota application process again, this time with more unified resistance. North Dakota’s fracking boom will erase the argument that people in the U.S. need Canadian oil enough to give a company in another country the powers of eminent domain.

Since the pipeline’s proposal, TransCanada has faced huge national protests and small-scale disobedience along the path of its construction. Grassroots groups have organized and politicked all along the pipeline’s proposed route.

People can make a difference if they just keep working to save the world.


April 19, 2014

Saving the World, One Step at a Time

Climate change has arrived, according to most of the scientists in the world, and the gridlocked Congress ignores all the problems that it has already brought. Yet in the nation and other places around the world, large and small steps are helping to save the planet. Here are a few stories to illustrate Margaret Mead’s belief in people: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” 

Keystone_MapProponents of building the Keystone XL pipeline have hit another snag, at least temporarily. A decision was expected by the end of May, but this hitch may postpone any conclusion until after the November elections. In February a judge ruled that the transfer of approval of the revised route to the governor’s office from the Nebraska Public Service Commission is unconstitutional on the state level. The attorney general has appealed, but if the ruling is upheld, the commission could take seven months to a year to make a decision about the route. The original route went through ecologically fragile wetlands of the Nebraska sand hills, and environmental advocates and landowners objected to the revision.

Monsanto products may still be prevalent in the United States, but Chile has won out against them. The “Monsanto Law” there would have given big business “the right to patent seeds they discover, develop or modify.” In the U.S. that means genetically modified seeds that produce unlabeled unhealthy food. As in many other countries, farmers in Chile exchange seeds, but Monsanto would have forced all of them to purchase their seeds from multinational agribusiness companies every year. GMOs have already damaged farming in India after Monsanto promised magic seeds that increased productivity and profit with decreased labor. GMO seeds require more water, and the crops failed to grow at the same rate that the debt of farmers in India increased. About 200,000 of them committed suicide.

Chile still isn’t completely safe: the Monsanto could be reworded and resubmitted. Corporate lobbyists and corporate stakeholders don’t quit. Yet the people have defeated a massive corporation for now. The end result affects people in the U.S. because Chile imports food here.

The first three months of the year saw many articles from the South about the ways that the energy industries were destroying water quality. Duke Energy was the worst, and they fought to keep secret their coal ash dumps that spill arsenic and mercury into North Carolina’s drinking water.  Whenever Waterkeeper Alliance tried to sue Duke, the state’s Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) blocked or delayed the lawsuits. The state agency got support from Gov. Pat McCrory who worked at Duke for 28 years who appointed a secretary for DENR who described his job as being a “partner” to the companies that it regulates. That’s the agency with the responsibility for investigating and penalizing polluters.

Over a month ago, a Waterkeeper pilot flew over an abandoned Duke Energy plant and photographed workers running a hose for a pond of toxic coal ash into an adjacent canal. This was a site carefully watched because the banks of one pond had collapsed over 30 years ago and all the old ponds were poorly built. Peter Harrison and other riverkeepers took a boat up the canal to take water samples but faced a local deputy sheriff on the way back. Notified by the plant’s security guards, he let them go with a warning for being on the canal but told Harrison the next day that he would be arrested for trespassing if he came back.

The law persisted in insisting that the canal was private property until the sheriff consulted with the county attorney. Waterways are public property in North Carolina. As Harrison said, “If you can float a boat on it, it’s public.” And yes, Duke was illegally dumping coal ash—61 million gallons. The Waterkeepers garnered more public support after a video of the encounter with the deputy sheriff was on the The Rachel Maddow Show. DENR is under grand jury investigation for failing to regulate Duke Energy, and Waterkeepers are working to gain access to documents that Duke wants to keep secret.

While people in Beijing and Paris choke on pollution and have their photos taken in front of fake landmarks as the real ones are obscured, coal use in the United States is shrinking. Electricity production from coal has fallen from 53 percent in 2000 to under 40 percent.  The country has used so much of its resources that easily mined coal may disappear in about ten years.

Approximately 10 percent of the coal mined in the United States is exported, requiring terminals. Washington state has turned down a series of these projects after activists and potential neighbors defeated them in their worry about climate change and local air pollution and congestion. Last week developers turned to help from Montana industry after they lost the battle to build two coal ports. “Lots and lots of ground-level organizing. And I’ll tell you, the opposition is better at it than we are,” said Wendy Hutchinson of Millennium Bulk Terminals, which is seeking to build the $643 million Longview dock on the Columbia River.

While the GOP lawmakers remain ostriches by ignoring the danger of major U.S. cities disappearing under the water with climate change, one place in Great Britain is being proactive. New Jersey thinks that it can hold back the ocean with bigger sand dunes, but West Sussex decided to realign its coast, moving it several miles inland.  Instead of spending millions of dollars to annually repair the damage from ocean storms, they will have a one-time expenditure of $46.5 million to move a sea wall over a mile away from the ocean, leaving a buffer zone of marsh to absorb its energy just as it was hundreds of years ago. Those willing to spend the millions to move the sea wall know that the cost will continue to rise because climate change increases the sea level each year.

The project was finished only weeks before last December’s storms, and the idea worked. A developer of 308 vacation rental homes near the realignment said in amazement, “You can see that it is progress, not defeat…. It’s the first winter in years we haven’t had to deal with surface flooding,” he added. “We were all hoping the project just wouldn’t make it any worse, but it appears to actually be making it much better.” The project also added walking and bike paths for the tourists and extended the tourism season because of a decreased problem of flooding. The money also provided a bird habitat in accordance with the E.U. Habitats and Birds Directive which requires the country to compensate for wildlife habitat destroyed elsewhere along the coast.

In New York, an anonymous group called Rotten Apple is recycling objects by turning them into something useful.  A seat on a bicycle rack, a newspaper kiosk into a cold weather clothing bank, even directions on how to make composting bins out of abandoned wood pallets—these are just a few of their ideas. More photos of the projects are available here


January 31, 2014

State Department Dumps Pipeline on U.S.

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Friday afternoon is known for “the dump,” when news is released to the media that the government would prefer that no one knows. Today’s Friday dump is the release of the State Department’s report indicating that the Keystone XL oil pipeline won’t significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions, giving the disastrous project a stamp of approval. Their theory is that oil sands extraction will continue even without the pipeline so sending crude oil across the entire United States in shoddy, leaky pipes doesn’t make any difference.

The report stated that the transport of 830,000 barrels of oil daily would annually add an extra 1.3 million to 27.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Headlines about the report, however, have ignored this disaster.

Today’s State Department statement concerns the 1,179-mile northern leg that would carry heavy crude from Canada into Montana and run to the small town of Steele City (NE). TransCanada started shipping oil through the southern leg of the Keystone pipeline.

The decision is still not made, and people who think that future generations deserve a planet to live on, will loudly proclaim the worsening climate change caused by the pipeline project. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) is one Congressional member who spoke out against the project, but the 20-term representative won’t be running again for the House again this year.

Eight government agencies now have 90 days to weigh in on the project; the public has only 30 days for comment. President Obama makes the final decision because it crosses a border from another country. He said that he would do this only if it would not “significantly exacerbate carbon emissions,” and he’s waited five years to make his decision.

The State Department also has a problem with the report that its Office of Inspector General is compiling regarding conflicts of interest with a contractor who helped develop the benign environmental impact statement. Some legislators asked the State Department to hold off on issuing its report until after the Inspector General had finished, but that didn’t happen.

During his presidency, Obama has displayed a quiet support for fossil fuels and their transport in the nation. During his second election year, the president issued an executive order that called for an expedited review of the southern half of the pipeline from Cushing (OK) to Port Arthur (TX).  Less than two years later, the segment opened, despite the multiple holes allowing leaks in the pipe. Last year President Obama appointed a former petroleum engineer for Mobil Oil Company as the Secretary of Interior.

Conservatives in the country demanding the pipeline for additional oil in the United States fail to understand that the tar sands sent across the nation and refined on the Gulf Coast will then be exported with most of it leaving the U.S. As a result, people in the U.S. will pay more for their gas, as much as $3 to $4 billion a year. Because the pipeline bypasses the Midwest, people there will be paying as much as $.40 a gallon more.

When the pipeline crosses land near them, however, some people grasped the seriousness of the situation and opposed it, with little effect. Michael Bishop (Douglas, TX) lives 120 feet from pipeline construction. Last year, he filed a lawsuit last year, claiming that the president’s fast-tracking broke environmental laws because Nationwide Permit 12 does not permit “activities that result in more than minimal individual and cumulative adverse effects on the aquatic environment.”

One little-considered impact from the pipeline is how it affects the people whose environments change from a stable community to the towns that pop up because of pipeline construction. The project will greatly impact Native American women in states with large Indian populations such as South Dakota. These women are two and a half more times likely to be sexually assaulted—many times from white men—than women of any other race. Groups trying to mitigate this violence are concerned that pipeline construction will endanger these women even more.

Native women are already considered easy targets for rapists, and men who know that they are not a permanent part of the community are even less likely to believe that they can be held accountable for their crimes. Spikes of violence in pop-up cities has already been documented in regions affected by resource booms. Large groups of men, for example in areas connected with the oil and gas industry, increase the incidence of sexual assault. Marginalized communities are frequently affect disproportionately by the crimes of rape, sexual assault, and domestic violence.

South Dakota is currently a sex tourism destination and magnet for sex trafficking and sexual abuse. Native women are involved in approximately 40 percent of the cases because a “Wild West” culture combined with the gas and oil boom creates a defiant atmosphere of lawlessness. The pipeline will make this problem far worse.

Everyone will suffer, however, if the pipeline spills into the Ogallala Aquifer, which supplies 83 percent of Nebraska’s irrigation water. In addition, the Interior Department submitted a report to the State Department explaining how the pipeline would have “permanent impacts on wildlife” and seriously affect National Park Service lands and Historic Trails.

About two months ago, Milford (TX) was evacuated after a massive explosion of a 10-inch Chevron natural gas pipeline near a drilling rig. The fire, with an unknown cause, raged for over a day. A month later, a TransCanada natural gas pipeline exploded in Manitoba, shutting off gas for 4,000 residents in sub-zero Canadian temperatures. Sometimes explosions are the only way that gas leaks are discovered. Leak-detection software, special alarms and 24/7 control room monitoring leaks just 19.5 percent of the time, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

TransCanada forecast that its first crude oil pipeline, Keystone 1, would leak no more than an average of 1.4 times over a decade. Instead, it had 14 U.S. spills in a single year, and federal regulators had to temporarily shut it down. Since 1986, according to a ProPublica investigation, U.S. pipeline accidents have killed more than 500 people, injured over 4,000, and cost nearly $50 billion in property damages.

That’s what the State Department says is appropriate for the United States.

December 28, 2013

Keystone Pipeline XL – Still Not Decided

As 2013 comes to an end, the question of finishing the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico is still not settled. In 2012 the State Department reported found no conflicts of interest in its documents, but it was recently discovered that one of the contractors on the department’s environmental review is also a member of several energy industry groups pushing the project, causing a new investigation by the department’s inspector general.

The issue has separated the positions of potential presidential candidates–former Secretary of State Clinton and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). Lobbyists for TransCanada include Clinton’s former friend and staffer Paul Elliot and David Goldwyn, Clinton’s Special Envoy and Coordinator for International Energy Affairs. Clinton selected a petroleum industry contractor to write the environmental impact statement. With no climatologist for the report, it failed to estimate the number of degrees that the pipeline would increase the Earth’s climate.

President Obama is trying to coerce the European Union into relaxing its anti-global-warming regulations so that it will import TransCanada oil. Warren joined 21 other Congressional Democrats to sign onto a December 20 letter criticizing the president’s position. A change in government policies would eliminate the cost-advantage of normal oil which costs far less to mine, process, and transfer to market than the dirty, land-locked tar sands oil. The result would be far less use of cleaner oil and far greater damage in climate change. It would also add a net benefit of over $90 billion to the Koch Brothers personal coffers because they own 53 percent of TransCanada.

Future danger isn’t the only issue. Port Arthur (TX), the end point of the pipeline, provides the toxic refining of the product. Cancer rates among people in Jefferson County are 15 percent higher than for the average Texan, and the mortality rate is 40 percent higher. Residents of Port Arthur are four times more likely than people 100 miles upwind to report heart and respiratory conditions, nervous system and skin disorders, headaches and muscle aches, and ENT (ear, nose, and throat) ailments.

Because the pipeline crosses an international border, the president has sole authority in deciding whether the project continues. While he waited to decide, however, he expedited many other projects, including smaller pipelines, through executive orders.

The president may be getting his pipeline information from his former Communications Director, Anita Dunn, who now does public relations for TransCanada through her firm SKDKnickerbocker. If she fails with the pipeline, however, she move on to trains because another of her clients is the Association of American Railroads (AAR). According to a New York Times article a year ago:       

“Dunn regularly attends closed-door political strategy briefings with top Obama aides; White House records show she has visited more than 100 times since leaving her communications job. She is now serving as a paid adviser to the Democratic National Committee.”

Dunn’s husband, Robert Bauer, worked as legal counsel for Secretary of State John Kerry in his 2004 presidential campaign. Kerry has the final decision on the Keystone Pipeline XL.

Clinton and Warren also differ on the issue of fracking. In an October speech at Hamilton College in upstate New York, Clinton praised fracking, a method of extracting natural gas through hydraulic fracturing.  Fracking not only potentially destroys land, air, and water but also produces extensive quantities of methane, “far more potent than a greenhouse gas” that it “would gut the climate benefits of switching from coal,” according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

One oil producer thinks that the Keystone Pipeline is not necessary. Continental Resources prefers rail because of its flexibility. Trains may be flexible, but they’re not safe. Last month a train hauling 2.7 million gallons of crude oil, possibly from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale fields, derailed and exploded in rural Alabama. Oil spilled into the surrounding wetlands and burned for days, keeping emergency responders away from the train cars. Railroads are carrying 25 times more crude oil than five years ago.

Even British Columbia knows the dangers of a pipeline across their land. Last June they voted down a pipeline taking oil from the tar sands from Alberta to the Pacific Ocean. The government was not satisfied with the company’s oil spill response. Their action contributed to the fall of crude oil prices.

Meanwhile TransCanada has already started using the southern leg of its pipeline across Oklahoma and Texas despite hundreds of damages and flaws in the pipeline itself and letters of warning of violations from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). Exactly what TransCanada is doing, however, is unknown because it refuses to release information to landowners, first responders, or government officials.

In October, a Koch Pipeline spilled 17,000 gallons of crude oil in Texas. It was discovered during an aerial inspection. Yet the vast majority of spills go unreported. The same month, Associated Press investigated spills and found over 300 unreported ones in North Dakota over two years. State regulators aren’t required to inform the public about any spills. Only the oil and gas companies are in charge of determining construction routes of new oil pipelines and the maintenance of existing ones.

Last summer, Rachel Maddow reported oil spills in Alberta, Canada—the source of the tar sands oil for the pipeline through the United States. The province has had an average of two spills per day—for the last 37 years.

This fall the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals (Denver, CO) determined that money was more important than the environment when it refused to grant the Sierra Club and Clean Energy Future Oklahoma a temporary injunction on the construction of the southern half of Transcanada’s Keystone XL tar sands export pipeline. The financial damage to TransCanada from the injunction would be worse than damage to 485 miles as 700,000 barrels daily crossed 2,227 streams.

The southern half of the pipeline was one of those approved through a presidential executive order almost two years ago. The intent of the order may have been to permit projects with minimal impacts, but it’s now used to allow tar sands oil pipelines crossing several states. TransCanada called each half-acre segment a “single and complete project.” The Army Corps of Engineers agreed despite the fact that TransCanada calls it the “Gulf Coast Pipeline project.”

Instead of addressing the question of whether TransCanada was right in its description of “complete project,” two of the three judges on the panel ruled on the money that Koch Brothers might lose. The minority ruling, however, pointed out, “Transcanada chose to incur its economic harm by entering into contracts for services before the Gulf Coast Pipeline was approved, even in light of the controversial nature of the Pipeline.”

Billionaire Tom Steyer has a perspective on the pipeline that is unusual for the wealthy. “Foreign countries will get more access to more oil to make more products to sell back to us, undercutting our economy,” he said in a four-part, $1 million advertising campaign claiming that the pipeline will hurt the economy and communities. “Here’s the truth: Keystone oil will travel through America not to America.” As a bonus, Steyer started an independent political effort to elect candidates ready to address global warming.

January will probably bring more talk about the Keystone Pipeline because Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) hopes to extort approval from the White House in partial exchange for raising the debt ceiling. He claims that this could make the United States “an energy independent continent within a decade.” This is his support for an endeavor that will result in 35 permanent jobs and make the country a conduit for Canadian oil that’s shipped overseas. The pipeline will also make gasoline more expensive because oil can be more easily be shipped out of the country, forcing U.S. buyers to purchase oil at the global benchmark price instead of at a discount.

The GOP loves the pipeline almost as much as they hate people having health insurance. They’re willing to destroy the resources of our country to get their own way.

If President Obama decides that the State Department’s report is tainted by a conflict of interest, he can require another report—and that can take a long time. The decision has been on-going for at least five years; the president may never need to decide whether the project should be finished.  

August 24, 2013

The Keystone XL Pipeline Needs to be Stopped

Good news came yesterday when the State Department announced that its decision on the Keystone XL pipeline may be postponed until next year because of allegations that the department hired a reviewer of the project who has a conflict of interest. Keystone needs a cross-border permit to finish the northern part of its pipeline carrying Alberta tar sands oil to the Gulf of Mexico. Environmental Resources Management, hired by the State Department to conduct the environmental review did extensive work for TransCanada and the many oil companies that stand to benefit if the pipeline is built. In addition, the company lied on its federal conflict of interest disclosure forms by declaring that it no such ties.

The tar sands of Alberta, containing an estimated 169.3 billion barrels of oil, are estimated to be the third largest reserve of crude oil on the planet, behind only Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, and are also the most polluting source of energy on earth. If the pipeline is approved, it will transport more than 800,000 barrels of oil every day and emit 181 million metric tons of carbon dioxide each year. Building the pipeline would be the equivalent of adding 37.7 million new cars on the road every day and firing up 51 new coal power plants. Substituting tar sands oil for conventional oil increases global warming emissions by 20 percent.

randy thompsonPeople are becoming more cautious about transporting the oil across the United States. Randy Thompson, a rancher in Martell (NE) is one person fighting the pipeline because it goes through the Ogallala Aquifer which lies under the eight states that the pipeline would cross.


He wrote that TransCanada said that people could use bottled water if the pipeline gets breaks, releasing oil into the water source. As Thompson said:

 “Now that’s a bunch of bunk. To get up in the morning and shower with a bottle of water? These guys have got to be kidding.  As far as I’m concerned, TransCanada and their Keystone XL pipeline can go to hell. I don’t want any part of them, not in my land and not in Nebraska.”

The existing parts of the Keystone Pipeline have shown serious flaws, including dents and welds that forced the company to dig up and rebuild dozens of sections in the southern section. TransCanada’s Keystone 1 pipeline from Canada to the U.S. Midwest had 12 spills in its first year starting in June 2010, the highest spill rate of any oil pipeline in U.S. history. The company had promised that there would be no more than one during that first year.

Whistleblower Evan Vokes, a former TransCanada employee, testified to a Canadian Senate committee this summer about the company’s “culture of noncompliance” and “coercion” with “deeply entrenched business practices that ignored legally required regulations and codes” and carries “significant public safety risks.” He said that he has seen the same “breaches of construction quality” in parts of TransCanada’s Keystone XL already laid in Texas.

“There’s thousands of cracks in the system — it’s just which ones will become the problem? It’s low probability, high consequence,” Vokes said.

Also in early summer, President Obama said that the pipeline would not be a major job creator and could actually raise gasoline prices. He added that his decision of whether to approve the pipeline would be connected to climate change, that it would receive the necessary federal permit only if the “net” effects of the pipeline did not “significantly exacerbate” carbon pollution. In his statements, the president also said that Canada could “potentially be doing more” to curb emissions from the oil sands.

Gasoline prices would rise because multinational companies investing in tar sands oil would ship more of the product pouring through the Keystone from Gulf Coast refineries to overseas countries which has a high demand for diesel and gasoline. Even the Canadian crude currently sent from Canada into the Midwest could easily be diverted into the Keystone to satisfy overseas demand.

At this time, the tar sands extraction site at Cold Lake, Alberta is suffering from a giant oil leak that, thus far, can’t be contained. Oil companies pressurize the oil bed to force bitumen to the surface; the resulting blowout has caused the bitumen to seep out of control, poisoning the environment. The company can’t find the location of the leak that’s been going on for at least three months.

Ordinary oil floats on top of water when it spills; tar sands oil sinks to the bottom of water or soil, thus creating far more disaster to its surroundings. The same thing happens with the hundreds of ruptures in the pipelines that have spilled more than one million gallons of tar sands oil in rivers, wetlands, and drinking water reservoirs.

The wastewater also destroys the environment. When 9.5 million liters of salt and heavy-metal-laced wastewater leaked into wetlands that the First Nation tribes used for hunting and trapping, every plant and tree died. Before that leak, other major spills included over 4 million liters of oil and water from pipelines run by two different companies.

As more people look into pipeline ruptures, the news gets worse and worse. The Apache Corporation claimed that their leak came from aging infrastructure, but the pipeline, designed to last 30 years, was only five years old. Alberta’s Energy Minister Ken Hughes hid a pipeline safety report pending the Keystone decision in the U.S. after a spill that leached 475,000 liters of oil into the Red Deer River, a major drinking water source. Over the past 37 years, Alberta’s pipeline network has had 28,666 crude oil spills plus another 31,453 spills of other liquids used in oil and gas production  from salt water to liquid petroleum. That’s an average of two crude oil spills a day—every day.

TransCanada’s proposed internal spill-detection systems for the Keystone XL in the U.S. would permit spillage of more than 12,000 barrels every day, 1.5 percent of its 830,000 barrel capacity before any warning occurred.

British Columbia is smart enough to reject the Northern Gateway, a pipeline across their land from Alberta to the Pacific Ocean. According to Environment Minister Terry Lake, Enbridge had not satisfactorily answered the BC government’s questions during the hearings. Unfortunately, the Canadian government has the ultimate authority over the pipeline decision, but the BC ruling may affect its ruling.

british columbia

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the corporate-controlled organization that writes conservative bills for states, has taken an interest in the Keystone. An oil-industry lobby group has provided them a model bill to limit states’ abilities to negotiate “low-carbon fuel standards” to reduce the carbon intensity of transportation fuels. The purpose of the ALEC bill is intended to block environmental agreements.

Inaccurate” is one way that the U.S. Department of the Interior described the State Department’s conclusions that the impact of the Keystone XL pipeline on wildlife would be temporary, saying that the impact could have long-term, adversarial—possibly permanent–effects. A 12-page letter from the Interior Department lists a number of serious issues from constructing both the pipeline and the related infrastructures that the State Department had ignored.

We can only hope that a U.S. permit for the Keystone XL pipeline is looking more and more unlikely.

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