Nel's New Day

January 10, 2015

Power Only GOP Reason for Passing Keystone Pipeline

Filed under: Environment — trp2011 @ 9:33 PM
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The GOP has started its 2015 war on the president with a House bill to support the Canadian economy. For the 10th time, the Republican House members, with the help of 28 Democrats, has sent a bill to the Senate to build the Keystone XL Pipeline. The non-veto proof vote was 266 to 153. There had been some stalling until the Nebraska Supreme Court determined whether decision for the KXL route through the state is constitutional. Only four of the necessary five votes maintained the unconstitutionality of the decision taking land from the farmers.

President Obama has said that the project takes oil from Canada and ships it across the United States to the Gulf of Mexico so that it can be sent overseas. He’s right: industries benefiting from the KXL under dispute are Canadian companies such as Suncor Energy, Imperial Oil, and Canadian Natural Resources.

Republicans are well-paid to support KXL.  The fossil fuels industry has paid at least $721 million into forward its agenda put a lot of money into forwarding its agenda in the Congress not counting hundreds of millions more through outside groups.

One argument has been lowering gas prices, despite the fact that no one in the U.S. will be getting the oil. During less than a year, oil prices have dropped over 50 percent–before one drop of oil passed through the KXL. The pipeline could actually increase prices because the oil is sent overseas.

Another claim that the pipeline will have no negative impact on the environment is equally false. Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) stated that sending the thick, gooey stuff in leaky pipelines is safer than by train or truck. Oil pipelines, however, leak and spill at least an average of 97,376 barrels (4.1 million gallons) of petroleum and related hazardous fluids every year. Federal regulators buried a report that TransCanada was cited “for ‘inadequate’ field inspections and ‘ineffective’ management.” Its pipeline in Canada had a rupture rate five times higher than the national average and was discovered to be 95 percent corroded after it burst in 2009. TransCanada fixed 125 sags and dents in the southern leg of the pipeline within the first ten months.

Supporters use an old report from the U.S. State Department, prepared by people from the oil industry, that claims the pipeline is safe. If it leaks, however, TransCanada is not on the hook for cleanup costs because tar sands oil is not covered by the mandated insurance for pipelines.

The GOP’s primary argument is that the KXL creates jobs. If that were true, they’d try to open one Denny’s restaurant; its jobs would be equal to the 35 permanent jobs of the KXL. The claim of 42,000 temporary jobs is “cooked”: the total is really about 1,950 Full Time Equivalent jobs because the GOP total doubles the number for a person working two years and doesn’t consider part-time jobs. Meanwhile, the GOP ignores the federal highway bill and other infrastructure endeavors that could help people in this country.

Clean energy had at least double the number of temporary KXL jobs in 2013. Wind power needs a 2.2 cents per kilowatt-hour federal production tax credit (PTC) to start projects. Every time Congress waffles about the PTC, the industry loses jobs; renewal creates a job spike. In contrast, fossil fuel companies automatically get billions of dollars in subsidies and federal tax breaks every year. Part of the millions that these companies spend is devoted to killing off clean energy.

A national renewable electricity standard, first discussed in 2009, could create 297,000 new jobs in manufacturing, construction, operations, maintenance, agriculture, forestry, and other industries if there were a mandate of 25 percent renewable by 2025.

Scotland is beginning construction of the world’s largest power plan that will power 175,000 homes. By last year, wind turbines in the country provided 98 percent of required electricity in Scottish homes. When the wind went down, homes used solar panels—100 percent of necessary electricity in Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Inverness during June and July and 60 percent in the same cities during March, April, May, August, and September.

Solar energy would be more popular in the United States without opposition from big businesses. Every three minutes a new rooftop solar system is installed in the United States, up from one every 80 minutes before Barack Obama became president. The Koch brothers and the heirs of the Walmart fortune are struggling to stamp out these solar projects by lobbying for exorbitant fees for anyone who dares put these panels on their roofs.

The fear is that all these people creating their own electricity will break the utility monopolies. The Waltons of Walmart want their own big company that uses solar panels to sell to customers instead of letting people install their own panels. They’d probably like to tax personal vegetable gardens so that more people would have to buy Walmart vegetables. Opposition started in Arizona, Kansas, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Washington. With fees in some of these states, installations are dropping as much as 40 percent. Big energy companies can’t buy out individual homeowners so they buy the congressional representatives instead.

In addition to voting to pass the KXL for the tenth time, the 114th Congress added to its 50 attacks on the Affordable Care Act and embarked on its anti-abortion campaign. Yet nothing has been said about authorizing any offensive in the Middle East. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) blames the White House for sending nothing to the House about military force to defeat terrorist enemies. President Obama has welcomed congressional authorization and asked legislators to address the issue, but Boehner wants the president to write the resolution’s text and lobby for its passage. Congress has taken long vacations since the ISIL crisis last summer, but the return of the legislators led only to saber-rattling about wiping out the current president.

Despite bitter complaints from the GOP that the president won’t treat Congress as a co-equal branch of government, Republicans want the president to do their work. When President Clinton used military force in Kosovo, GOP members of Congress wrote and voted on a resolution. A congressional resolution came from lawmakers when President Reagan sent U.S. troops to Lebanon. The same thing happened when President Obama launched strikes in Libya—another U.S. military resolution from Congress. There’s no history for the GOP sitting around, waiting for the president to write their resolutions.

Building the KXL seems to be the current GOP ideological symbol of power. Ignoring facts and evidence, Republicans pass a bill to improve the economy in Alberta, Canada. The more opposition directed at the KXL, the more conservatives believe in the importance of the project. Because Republicans have neither a jobs program nor an economic vision, they use the KXL in an attempt to prove that they are working for “the people.” After all the money spent in the elections last year, the GOP puts up the Keystone XL Pipeline as their most important issue. Trying to show that they are boldly sallying forth, the House continues its huge fights over minor issues.

Now the bill goes to the Senate where it will face amendments that the House prevented. Democrats plan at least three amendments that would actually provide jobs: no export of oil shipped through the pipeline, mandated manufacture of pipeline steel in the U.S., and additional financial incentives for renewable energy.

Even A CEO from one of the largest oil producers in North Dakota, Continental Resources, has called the pipeline “irrelevant.” Harold Hamm and Roger Kelley, director of regulatory affairs for the company, agreed that they’re “successfully transporting crude by rail.” Even if built, the pipeline would carry less than ten percent of the state’s daily shipments.

Production costs for tar sands oil are between $85 and $110 per barrel. Today the cost went below $49. Companies already lost $30.9 billion between 2010 and 2013 because of loss of oil markets and competition from lower-priced light crude. Tar sands oil has become a risky investment. Land rights of Canada’s indigenous groups, leading opposition to the pipeline, were strengthened last June, causing the Canadian government to back off. Gas sales are down in the United States because of electric cars, hybrids, more efficient fuel use, and greater access to clean energy. China, considered by Canada as a prime market, announced its program to cut carbon emissions.

Here are sites for petitions against the Keystone XL Pipeline, one for the president and the other for the Senate. Googling “Keystone petition” will have other sources.

December 11, 2014

Beluga Whales Halt Canada Pipeline

The Keystone XL Pipeline to ship dangerous tar sands oil from Canada across the United States for shipment to other countries has faced protests for years. Therefore TransCanada came up with an alternative in Energy East, a proposed 2,800-mile pipeline that would take the tar sands oil from Alberta to eastern Canada, a longer distance than the proposed Keystone. The project has faced Canadian protesters, First Nations’ opposition, and strict conditions by Ontario and Quebec.

whaleThe population of beluga whales in St. Lawrence River may stop the Energy East project. The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) determination that these whales are endangered has stopped studies for a key export terminal in Quebec. TransCanada’s proposed terminal would annually bring in up to 175 “super tankers.”

The population of beluga whales, as high as 5,000 over 100 years ago, dropped to 1,200 by the 1950s. Despite banning the practice of beluga whaling, Canada’s high level of pollution in the river and tributaries causes cancer, blood poisoning, pneumonia, hepatitis and abscesses in the whales. The population shrank even more from low genetic diversity caused by the isolated habitat. Toxic algal blooms and noise pollution contributed to increasing the possibility of extinction.

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard said:

“It’s not my role to speak for the promoter [TransCanada], but it seems very difficult to me to continue to see a petroleum terminal on that site with information like that,” Couillard said in a press conference, referring to the whales. “Now it’s up to the promoter to find alternative sites. It’s not for me to do; it’s for them to do.”

Another species of whales helped block the tar sands oil from being shipped west through British Columbia. The 40-ton humpback whales were almost extinct in the early 20th century after over 200,000 were killed and have come back only through intense conservation efforts. The proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline would affect the whales’ feeding grounds and decrease their numbers.

In 2005, Enbridge planned a 730-mile pipeline that would end at the whales’ feeding grounds. Noise pollution from the tripling of tanker traffic would hurt the whales, which Canada has now designated as an endangered species. The area is also home to the second-largest animal on earth, the fin whale, which is listed in Canada as “threatened.” Because proposed location of the terminal is the one of the few places in the world where this type of whale comes close to shore, marine scientists believe that the purpose is for feeding.

Pipelines are toxic for people as well as whales, but the whales may help to save humanity.


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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