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.

 

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.

March 21, 2014

GOP on National Parks: Follow the Monday

Tired of trashing just people, GOP members of the U.S. House has decided to throw away the country’s most wonderful resources—the national parks. These people are in a snit because the President of the United States has had the right to declare new parks and monuments for 108 years. Rep. Bob Bishop (R-UT) introduced a bill this month that would give Congress the sole power to create new public resources. HR 1459 is called “The Ensuring Public Involvement in the Creation of Monuments and Parks,” but it would better be called “No New Parks.” The GOP members of Congress that wants to be responsible for our public resources has opposed every piece of legislation that would protect the environment or conserve land in the nation.

Once again, the GOP opposes what the public wants. A few months ago, three-fourths of respondents to a survey indicated that the government is not doing enough to protect national parks or public lands. In another survey, almost 70 percent of the people said they would more likely vote for a candidate who protects the environment and cares for the land.

HR 1459 is on schedule for a vote next week. That fast work is amazing for the House because bills sent over from the Senate such as immigration reform or helping the unemployed are still unattended.

Such quick action from the GOP calls on a response called “follow the money.” Bishop’s home state of Utah is sitting on a possible three trillion barrels of oil, more oil than used thus far in human history. Utah is getting ready for all this extraction with a $80-million highway into the Book Cliffs after a request from an oil shale lobby. A year ago BLM and the president allocated 800,000 acres of public lands for oil shale and tar sands leasing.  Benefiting companies are Enefit American (Estonia), Total (France), and Red Leaf Resources (Canada).

Tar sands oil is a mixture of sand, clay, and water. Usually the rock is “stripped” from the land, crushed, and then separated from the oil with the use of heat, water, and chemicals. Transport to a refinery requires dilution with some kind of petroleum solvent. As with other methods of fossil-fuel removal, tar sands oil mining uses a great deal of energy and water and causes massive and dangerous waste.

Below is the already mined Black Cliffs in Alberta and the Book Cliffs area before any mining.

black cliff alberta

book cliffs #3U.S. Oil Sands already got approval because the state’s Water Quality Division’s director, Walt Baker, doesn’t think there is any groundwater in the area in the high country between Vernal and Moab (UT). That site is called PR Spring, the name of a nearby freshwater spring, and the company plans to use groundwater for its processing. The total of that mine’s production over seven years will provide six hours of the fuel supply in the United States.

Jeremy Miller, of the environmental group Living Rivers, described the process during its seven years:

“Heavy machinery would scour bitumen from the pit around the clock … The sand and mineral fines remaining after the oil has been removed will be combined, shoved back into the pit and covered with topsoil. But processing expands such wastes by as much as 30 percent. The overflow will be dumped into surrounding ravines—a method starkly reminiscent of Appalachia’s mountaintop coal mining. And the project will create miles of light pollution, illuminating one of the country’s last great ‘dark’ regions.”

The mining company plans to use an untested “citrus-based solvent.” Miller said:

“In order to utilize the solvent, the sands must first be sent through a series of on-site crushers. Hot water is added to the resulting slurry, generating a ‘froth’ of oil, solvent, and fine sand particles. This mixture is then passed through a series of separation towers, where the crude oil is isolated. It’s then trucked to refineries in Salt Lake City for processing. Unlike conventional light crude oil, the heavy crude generated from PR Spring—like Canada’s—requires extra, energy-intensive refining steps to remove impurities, such as sulfur and heavy metals, before it can be turned into anything useful.”

arch parkThis site, however, is small compared to the largest deposit further south in the Tar Sands Triangle between Canyonlands National Park, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, and the Dirty Devil River Watershed. These are near some of the most beautiful places in the United States, including the red-rock canyon country of Canyonlands National Park, Natural Bridges National Monument, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and inside Capitol Reef National Park.

white Canyon

[White Canyon in Natural Bridges National Monument. White Canyon, just outside the monument’s boundaries, is a designated tar sands development area. Credit: Bobby Magill]

canyonlandsTar sands mining would, in the words of BLM, “completely displace all other uses of the land.” Its environmental impact statement would mean that the air nearby could be:

“… contaminated with carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide and other pollutants, while air close to the site could be contaminated with benzene, toluene and formaldehyde. More than 100,000 acres of wilderness-quality land could be industrialized, construction of reservoirs would alter natural streamflow patterns, hydrocarbons and herbicides could cause ‘chronic or acute toxicity’ in wildlife and habitat for 20 threatened or endangered species could be lost.”

That was the report from the federal agency that approved the tar sands mining.

These “before and after” photos shows the change in a northern Alberta forest on the Suncor Millennium tar sands site. [Photo by Peter Essick; complete article in March 2009, National Geographic.]

tar-sands-before-after Alberta

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has asked Secretary of State John Kerry for a “comprehensive human health impacts study” analyzing the respiratory ailments, cancer and other illnesses related to harvesting and refining the dense hydrocarbon bitumen in Alberta’s oil sands. In a press conference, she said:

“The health impacts of tar sands oil are being ignored. This press conference is about waking up Americans that more tar sands coming into this country is a danger to the health of our people, all along the way, from the extraction to the transport, to the refining.”

She noted that people living near the facilities suffer from “higher rates of the types of cancers linked to these toxic chemicals, including leukemia and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.” The letter to Kerry stated, “Putting more Americans at risk for asthma, cancer and other serious health impacts is not in our national interest.”

Her concern was about the pollutants from tar sands mining in Canada and piping it across the United States so that companies can make billions by shipping the product to Asia. The GOP wants tar sand mining to destroy the country’s public lands.

Water from the area targeted for the mining goes into the Colorado River watershed. Aside from taking water from a source for 30 million people, the resulting pollution would greatly damage the fragile Colorado River watershed.

Boxer needs to expand her concerns about what could happen to the land of Utah as this photo from the Alberta mines shows. Photo by Garth Lenz.

Alberta sands at night

As president, Theodore Roosevelt conserved over 230 million acres of U.S. land. He created five national parks (doubling the previously existing number); signed the landmark Antiquities Act and used its special provisions to unilaterally create 18 national monuments, including the Grand Canyon; and set aside 51 federal bird sanctuaries, four national game refuges, and more than 100 million acres’ worth of national forests. Now the Republicans want to again reject Roosevelt’s policies and destroy the beautiful lands of Utah. The GOP has one goal: follow the money.

 

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.

Ogallala

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.

May 22, 2013

House Passes Another Useless, Destructive Bill

Overturning Obamacare—for the 37th time—was the focus for the House of Representatives last week. This week they have wasted their time with the Keystone XL oil pipeline. Today with the help of 19 Democrats, GOP representatives approved a H.R. 3, “The Northern Route Approval Act,” declaring that a cross-border presidential permit was not needed from the president to approve the Canada-to-Nebraska leg of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

I call the action useless because it has to go through the Senate, where it will most likely fail, and then be signed by the president, who said that he veto it. In a memo yesterday, the White House’s Office of Management and Budget said that the House bill “conflicts with long-standing Executive branch procedures.”

They did spend time proposing amendments, allowing nine of them to Democrats, some concerned with pipeline safety and clean-up costs for pipeline spills. All of these failed along party lines. And it’s only the seventh time that the House has voted on the bill, wasting fewer millions of dollars than on Obamacare.

The proposed pipeline would carry dangerous tar sands oil from Alberta to Texas. That Oklahoma to Texas leg is finished, and TransCanada needs permits to get the oil to Nebraska.

Conservatives are quite insistent about getting the pipeline approved because of all the money that they have taken from the oil industry. Congressional members have taken $56 million from fossil fuel interests, $36 from just oil industry interests. The pipeline supporters have paid almost $400,000. Members opposing the pipeline have received less than $50,000.

Just three weeks ago, the Pegasus oil pipeline that devastated the Arkansas community in Mayflower and surrounding area, again developed a leak, this time in Missouri. Although the leak was small, it shows the problem with pipelines, especially when oil companies claim that they are not responsible for clean-up because of the chemicals added to the tar sands oil. The leak also occurred while the pipeline was closed.

Oil companies have a history of not paying for the damage that they cause. Three years after the epic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that caused 11 deaths, the BP, the responsible company, is lying about the dispersant used for clean-up and refusing to pay for the countless illnesses that workers have suffered.

It’s not as if the company can’t afford to pay: their 2013 first quarter profit was $4.2 billion. In the first three months of this year, BP made enough to almost pay the $4.5 billion fine levied against the corporation. BP put aside $8 billion of medical expenses related to the spill, but the illnesses of people who did the clean-up are not covered by that settlement.

BP has almost $28 billion in cash reserves and paid CEO Bob Dudley $2.7 million last year. The company gave over $400,000 in federal campaign contributions and spent almost $9 million on lobbying.

Perhaps new Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz can persuade BP to loosen their purse strings for the people suffering from their toxic chemicals. He did serve on the company’s Technology Advisory Board for six years.

Some of the people on the Keystone pipeline route are beginning to fight back. Residents of Manchester, a Houston neighborhood, now realize that children trying to play in a park playground in the shadow of an oil refinery get sick. People living near there are subject to chronic headaches, nosebleeds, sore throats, and red sores on their skin that don’t heal for month.

When they try to document the problems at the playground, they are told that they cannot photograph the playground where they take their children, but guards video people who go there. An activist teacher, her partner, and a few other young people have set up a community space in the yard of a house with free donated clothing, food, information on air pollution, meetings of local government officials, and trainings in skills like talking to the media and filing pollution complaints with the city.

After a small rally and march last year, two activists from the Gulf Coast locked themselves to trucks entering a the oil refinery and launched a 45-day hunger strike, demanding that the oil refinery divest from the Keystone XL pipeline. People who actually live in the community lack the resources and support to protest like this.

The Keystone XL pipeline is “the fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the planet,” according to former NASA climate scientist James Hansen. Tar sands crude oil is much more toxic than regular crude, and contains 11 times more sulfur and nickel, and 5 times more lead. That makes it a threat to everyone who lives along its path.

People who live in the area of the proposed pipeline and think that it is a boon don’t understand that they can lose their land. Several states have granted eminent domain authority to private entities, including oil and gas companies. Thus private companies can force the sale of anyone’s property even if the seller is unwilling to do so.

The Supreme Court cemented this deal in Kelo v. City of New London (2005) when it ruled that the city of New London could take private property and give to a private company for “economic development.” The people were all forced out, the houses knocked down, and the land left lying fallow because the private company never followed through with its “development.”

When North Carolina legalized fracking, it also gave private entities the right to take private property. This law is not restricted to just laying pipelines; the private companies are now designated as “public enterprises,” giving them unlimited rights to anyone’s private property. Pennsylvania and Texas have the same rights to anyone’s property.

We don’t need the pipeline. First, it will provide approximately 3,000 jobs for the first two years and then only 35 jobs for maintenance after that. Second, the oil that is refined will largely be shipped out of the country so that people in the United States don’t benefit from it.

And third, alternative forms of energy exist. In Washington, D.C., where the conservatives in the House voted today to destroy the environment and give away private property, Union Station has started using only wind power for its energy and will continue that for another three years. The nearly 19 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year will come from wind farms, reducing gasoline consumption by 1.4 million gallons.

union station

Wind energy grew 28 percent in 2012. According to the America Wind Energy Association:

“Over 6,700 new wind turbines were erected, which produce enough electricity to power the equivalent of 3.5 million homes. Overall, America finished the year with 45,100 wind turbines that can power 15.2 million homes.”

This sounds much better than promoting vast desolation of the land and chronic illnesses.

April 3, 2013

Keystone Pipeline, Destructive

The decision on building the Keystone Pipeline project, designed to send oil from north of Montana through 1,700 miles and six states, is coming to a head. Since its inception, conservatives have advocated for this disaster—unless it crossed their own land—and environmentalists have fought it.

The issue exploded when the Exxon Pegasus pipeline ruptured last Friday in Mayflower (AR), flooding a residential neighborhood with tens of thousands of gallons of diluted bitumen. Twenty-two homes were evacuated, and the noxious odor, similar to that of asphalt, wafted for five miles. The Keystone Pipeline is designed to carry nine times as much as the Pegasus pipeline.

The Arkansas disaster was just one week after the Senate voted to support the Keystone Pipeline, perhaps persuaded by a State Department draft report, authored by a person with extensive ties to oil companies, claiming that the Keystone Pipeline will have no environmental impact. Congress has no control over the project; it is the State Department that makes the final decision.

Two days before the Pegasus spill, a train carrying tar sands oil spilled 15,000 gallons in Minnesota. During that week, Exxon got a $1.7 million fine for its pipeline that dumped 42,000 gallons of oil in the Yellowstone River in 2011. The fine is miniscule, 0.004 percent of Exxon’s $45 billion profit last year.

The pipeline transports diluted bitumen because bitumen is in a solid or semi-solid state that can be sludge or rock-like and must be diluted into a liquid to move through the pipe. The industry won’t tell anyone what it uses to dilute the bitumen.

The first Environmental Impact Statement gave Keystone an “inadequate” rating because of no information on the diluents. In 2011, Cynthia Quarterman, the agency director of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, testified in the House of Representatives that her agency, the regulatory one for the pipeline, had no idea whether dilbit is more dangerous in transport than ordinary crudes and had not studied the issue.

The second EIS, released this past month, shows that no one knows anything more about the contents of the diluents or how it will react to a spill. Instead the report waffled by saying that the diluted bitumen does “behave as a conventional crude oil.” The EPA does report on the damage to animals, plants, and humans of benzene, a very toxic chemical remaining in the air after the Enbridge tar sands spill of 2011.

This spill in Michigan, which released a million gallons of dilbit in the Kalamazoo River and cost more than $820 million, still challenges scientists and regulators as they try to remove submerged oil from the riverbed. Thirty-two months after the Enbridge spill, the Kalamazoo River still has oil, and the cost has risen to over $700 million dollars. Conservation groups, with evidence, that sands oil leads to more spills because it is “highly corrosive, acidic and potentially unstable.”

So back to the oil spill in Arkansas. Exxon-Mobil expressed regret and apologized. But who will fix it? The state Oil and Gas Commission can’t do anything because the U.S. Department of Transportation is in charge. That means that the state can’t inspect the spill or the pipeline and that the state has no oversight over this disaster.

Exxon won’t have to pay one cent for the clean-up. The company confirmed that the pipeline was carrying “low-quality Wabasca Heavy crude oil from Alberta” that had to be diluted. According to a 1980 law, diluted bitumen is not classified as oil, and companies transporting it in pipelines do not have to pay into the federal Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund. Other conventional crude producers pay 8 cents a barrel to ensure the fund has resources to help clean up some of the 54,000 barrels of pipeline oil that spilled 364 times last year.

The Keystone Pipeline is bad for United States economy:

The building of the pipeline won’t provide the number of jobs that the GOP promises: The State Department has estimated the project would create about 5,000 to 6,000 jobs for two years. After that it would require about 35 jobs a year.

Much of the oil refined in Texas will be exported to other countries: At least 60 percent of the gasoline produced in 2012 at Texas Gulf Coast refineries, the same ones the Keystone pipeline will serve, was exported. Exports will only rise because U.S. production is rising but consumption is declining and the industry can make more money through exports.

Many Canadians are opposed to the Keystone Pipeline: A year ago, a poll showed that nearly 42 percent of Canadians don’t want the pipeline. It is one of the world’s most environmentally damaging activities, wrecking vast areas of forest and sucking up huge quantities of water from local rivers before making it toxic and then dumping the contaminated water into ponds that now cover 70 square miles.

The Keystone Pipeline project will hurt both national and local economies: The increase of the earth’s temperature from burning tar sands oil can permanently cut the U.S. GDP by 2.5 percent at a time that 67 percent of U.S. counties have been hurt by at least one of the eleven $1 billion extreme weather events. Superstorm Sandy alone cost an estimated $80 billion, and the drought that affected 80 percent of farmland last summer destroyed one-fourth of the corn crop and did at least $20 billion damage to the nation’s economy. NASA climate scientist James E. Hansen said if all the oil was extracted from the oil sands it would be “game over” when it came to the effort to stabilize the climate.

The fossil fuel interests pushing the Keystone pipeline have cut, not created, jobs: While garnering $546 billion in profits between 2005 and 2010, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, and BP reduced their U.S. workforce by 11,200 employees. Forty percent of U.S oil-industry jobs consist of minimum-wage work at gas stations.

Unemployment will rise because of increasing disasters: Mark Zandi, the Chief Economist of Moody’s Analytics, reported that “Superstorm Sandy [sliced] an estimated 86,000 jobs from payrolls.” Two weeks after Hurricane Irene, the number of workers filing unemployment claims in Vermont rose from 731 to 1,331. Hurricane Katrina erased 129,000 jobs, almost 20 percent, in the New Orleans region. For the U.S. economy as a whole, 2011 cost US taxpayers $52 billion.

Poor and working people will be disproportionately affected: Keystone and projects like it have a disproportionately negative impact on already struggling working families. Sixteen states were afflicted by five or more extreme weather events in 2011-12; households in disaster-declared counties in these states earn $48,137, or seven percent below the U.S. median income.

Building the sustainable economy, not the Keystone pipeline, will create far more jobs: The solar industry creates jobs six times faster than the overall job market. Research shows a 13-percent growth in highly skilled solar jobs including installations, sales, marketing, manufacturing, and software development, bringing total direct jobs to 119,000 people. According to the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts–Amherst, investment in a green infrastructure program would create nearly four times as many jobs as an equal investment in oil and gas.

Congress is more inclined to vote in favor of Keystone, however, because of the lobbying money. At least fifty oil companies, business trade associations, labor unions, and political groups with combined lobbying budgets of more than $178 million paid politicians to suppport the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline in 2012. The dozen groups lobbying against the environmentally risky project had 2012 lobbying budgets of less than $5 million total.

How likely is it that the new Keystone Pipeline will have spills in addition to the 14 that they’ve had on the first part of the project? Isabel Brooks knows. When she and two friends locked themselves one night inside part of the pipeline in Winona (TX), they were amazed to see sunlight coming through gaping holes in the pipe the next morning from faulty welding. Law requires independent inspection, but TransCanada pipeline contracts can pick their own inspectors.

Brooks got her photographs of the holes in the pipeline shortly before the three protesters were arrested and jailed for 24 days. That gave TransCanada time to bury the pipeline without inspecting it. This is the same pipeline that runs under the Ogalalla aquifer which provides drinking water to millions of people in the United States.

Utah kids are being taught to support the use of oil. As a part of Earth Day, the Department of Oil, Gas, and Mining is sponsoring a poster contest for all kids grades K-6 with the theme, “Where Would WE Be Without Oil, Gas, and Mining?” State winners get $500 for their schools and are honored at the Earth Day Awards Luncheon.

The sponsors—and teachers—probably won’t be telling students that the EPA has ranked Salt Lake City among the worst U.S. metropolitan areas for air pollution close to Los Angeles. Other Utah cities–Logan, Provo, and Brigham City respectively — took the top three spots on the EPA’s worst air quality list in January.

Of course, the Keystone Pipeline won’t be going through Utah.

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