Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Keystone XL Pipeline Update: President Obama Issues Promised Veto

Updated Map of Pipeline Pipeline (the XL Extension)

View of the Pipeline and Tar Sands Crude Route 

Deeply Involved - Why? Big, big money
(Koch and Tar Sands - Helluva Tonic)

Everything Up to This Point Got Us to this Point:  Mr. Obama has made good on his promise - now the ball is in the GOP's corner - can they muster the voters to over ride (2/3 of each house required to over ride, thus that is unlikely).

For the record: This is only the third veto from Mr. Obama.

Related story here - from the people who would have been impacted in the worst possible ways.

Updated: Will the clash over Keystone ever end? By Kaye Foley (Yahoo news): 

On February 11, the Republican-led House of Representatives passed the 11th bill approving the long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline after it also passed the Senate. It is now headed to President Obama’s desk for his signature, but he has threatened a veto.

It’s the latest chapter in this six-year saga.

In 2008, the Canadian energy company TransCanada submitted plans for the pipeline to the U.S. State Department.

The proposed 1,179-mile Keystone XL pipeline would go from the oil sands in Alberta, Canada, to Steele City, Neb. It’s the final piece of a 3,800-mile network that would bring 830,000 barrels of oil a day to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries.

There are already miles and miles of pipelines beneath U.S. soil. But Keystone has ignited a debate that has become a focal point in Washington. Environmentalists say it’s a threat to the environment. The process of extracting oil from the oil sands in Alberta releases more greenhouse gases than traditional oil drilling.

Meanwhile, supporters claim it will improve U.S. energy security while creating thousands of jobs. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has urged President Obama to sign, saying, “The Keystone jobs bill is just common sense.”

The White House opposes the bill because it circumvents the administration’s review of whether or not Keystone XL is in the national interest. President Obama wants to wait for the final recommendation from the State Department. But even if the president vetoes, it’s not the end of this story. Congress could try to override the veto by a two-thirds majority vote in each chamber, although it currently lacks the votes.

GOP supporters may also look to attach Keystone as a rider to any must-pass legislation. (call that another GOP “poison pill” stunt – i.e., pass the bill we want, or else – so, is that anyway to run a country).

Stay tuned – or as Yogi Berra would say:

This update deals with rail transport of oil and latest disaster (story here) in West Virginia. I also provide more background on other rail disaster below.

The logic behind this update is simple: The GOP says no pipeline, okay, we'll transport the tar sands crude via rail ... one way or the other we will get the oil from Canada to Texas. Of course their effort is backed by you know who (Hint: Two brothers named Koch - more on that below, too). They want this project no matter the cost, damage, or future outlook for anything except their bottom line.

Too dramatic photo for you? Common in most rail explosions

  1. On Oct. 19, four rail cars carrying crude oil and nine carrying liquefied petroleum gas derailed in Alberta, causing a fire that burned for days and forcing evacuation of the nearby hamlet of Gainford.
  2. Another crude-oil tanker train derailed on Nov. 8 and burned near AlicevilleAla., releasing up to 750,000 gallons of oil. 
  3. And on Dec. 30, 20 cars in a mile-long train carrying crude oil ignited and burned after colliding with a derailed grain train near CasseltonN.D., sending up a giant fireball and spilling what federal investigators later estimated to be 476,000 gallons of oil.
Yes, in Canada, too: Last July, 47 people died in a single disaster when an unattended train including 72 tanker cars loaded with crude oil rolled downhill, exploded and burned in the Canadian town of Lac-M√©gantic in Quebec province. Forty buildings were demolished, and an estimated 5.6 million liters (1.5 million gallons) of crude oil spilled or burned.

The tempo of oil-train accidents has increased along with the sharp rise in tanker shipments, as has the amount of oil discharged. Soon after the Casselton spill, an investigative news report by the McClatchy news agency concluded, based on federal data, that last year more oil spilled in the U.S. from rail tank cars than in all the nearly 40 previous years on record combined.

But later that month, on Feb. 26, a representative of the National Transportation Safety Board, Robert L. Sumwalt, told a congressional hearing that incidents such as the Casselton explosion have become an “increasingly commonplace story.” He said continued use of tanker cars built to meet current federal standards poses “an unacceptable public risk.”  Meanwhile, the Association of American Railroads is pressing the federal government to impose “more rigorous standards for tank cars carrying flammable liquids, including asking for retrofitting tank cars to meet the higher standards or phasing those that cannot be made safer.”

The incidents continue. On Feb. 13, several cars of a train carrying heavy Canadian crude derailed in Western Pennsylvania. This time only a few thousand gallons leaked out, and there was no fire or explosion.

UPDATE (February 9, 2015): This update of the status of this pipeline comes from a very 
thought-providing article here (in the LA Times). This gives us the impression of being between a rock and a hard spot, or lodged between the Koch brothers and the Saudis. I am not entirely sure which is worse: Sipping Koch or gulping Saudi oil???

Credit: David Horsey / Los Angeles Times
(click for larger view)

Hydraulic fracturing, the controversial and ecologically dubious extraction process more commonly known as “fracking,” has opened up vast new reserves of oil in AlbertaNorth Dakota and other areas

The production potential is so great that the United States, rather than being an oil importer reliant on suppliers in the troubled regions of the Middle East, could soon be a major exporter.

The energy independence for which a generation of politicians have clamored is at hand.
Except for one thing.  Fracking is not cheap and the Saudis know it.

Oil prices need to be high to justify drilling into tar sands and shale rock to bring up the hard-to-get-at crude. One good side benefit of high-cost fossil fuels is that renewable energy development has finally become economically feasible. Even as the environment is being compromised by fracking for dirty oil, environmentally friendly wind and solar power businesses have begun to prosper. But, with gasoline prices plummeting to half what they were two years ago, alternative-energy companies are taking a big hit.

Even more dramatic is the effect on the North American oil boom. As profits slump, drilling slows and jobs go away. Even the congressional debate over the Keystone XL pipeline could become moot.

There is no reason to build an expensive pipeline from Canada to the Gulf Coast if cheap gas makes the cost of pumping from the tar sands a bad business deal. 

[I agree with the article in this regard] … this is just what the Saudis want. Against their own short-term interests, they and their OPEC partners have kept production high and oil abundant.

Continue the article from the link above.

Side Note: Cheap gas is not good news for those who worry about climate change – minus the science deniers, that is … oops.

Original Post (January 29, 2015): This senate vote forces President to veto the pipeline ... the GOP got what they wanted a showdown and utter disregard for clean water, healthy land and air and for what? Big, big payoff for gas, oil, energy industry and the biggest tar sands land holder: Refreshing Koch-a-Kola.
This headline from Media Matters triggered me to got back and review my notes and references on the whole Keystone XL pipeline issue, which is extensive and very complex. My update follows this:

Despite Dropping Oil Prices, Media Are Still Dismissing Keystone XL Climate Impact 

This story is quite detailed with this introduction: Many news outlets are uncritically touting the State Department's conclusion that building the Keystone XL pipeline would not significantly worsen climate change without noting that this determination was based on an expectation of high oil prices. Some media outlets, however, have reported the significance of the recent plunge in oil prices, such as the Associated Press, which noted that “…low oil prices could make the pipeline more important to the development of new oil sands projects in Canada than anticipated by the State Department ... and therefore is more likely to increase emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases linked to global warming.” Continue reading at the above link.

My overall review starts from here (long, but I think important):   Two points from TransCanada here and here.

Some GOPers say: “The positives far outweigh the negatives.” I retort: What negatives? Should we not always strive to reduce or eliminate negatives (and strive for the benefits and positives)? 
Building this pipeline, with a record of over several dozen spills (12 in one year alone) should be reason to pause and not rush into this: it is not a crapshoot … throw the dice and scream 7 come 11 ain’t the answer. Once a spill occurs, all bets are off  because this type of crude (tar sands) is like a rock laden with heavy syrup: it sinks to the bottom of the lake or river, etc. It does not float on the top of the water where is can be easily skimmed off. Why take a chance on any prospective, and I add, massive spill like imagine across or near the Ogallala Aquifer

Who is the Tar Sands Biggest Land Owner? 

More on the Ogallala Aquifer: This is s a hallow water table aquifer located beneath the Great Plains in the United States. It is one of the world's largest aquifers, covering an area of approximately 174,000 mi² (450,000 km²) in portions of eight States: South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas). It was named in 1898 by N. H. Darton from its type locality near the town of Ogallala, NE. The aquifer is part of the High Plains Aquifer System, and rests on the Ogallala Formation, which is the principal geologic unit underlying 80% of the High Plains.

About 27 percent of the irrigated land in the United States overlies the aquifer, which yields about 30 percent of the ground water used for irrigation in the United States. Since 1950, agricultural irrigation has reduced the saturated volume of the aquifer by an estimated 9%. Depletion is accelerating, with 2% lost between 2001 and 2009 alone. Certain aquifer zones are now empty;  these areas will take over 6,000 years to replenish naturally through rainfall.

The aquifer system supplies drinking water to 82 percent of the 2.3 million people (1990 census) who live within the boundaries of the High Plains study area.  

Myth: Keystone XL Will Create Tens of Thousands of Jobs:

Any big construction project requires workers to build it. How many? The U.S. State Department’s analysis says 3,900 would be employed directly if the job is done in one year, or 1,950 per year if work is spread over two. TransCanada Corp. puts the number higher, saying the project would support 9,000 construction jobs directly.

There would be additional, “indirect” work for companies supplying goods and services, including concrete, fuel, surveying, welding materials and earth-moving equipment required for the project, and “induced” jobs resulting from money spent by workers and suppliers, such as ranchers providing beef for restaurants and construction camps.

Counting up everything, the State Department estimates a total of 42,100 jobs could be created. Trans Canada has accepted the 42,100 figure for total employment. Whatever the number, these jobs are temporary, lasting only for the year or two that it would take to complete the project. The number of permanent jobs is much lower. “The proposed Project would generate approximately 50 jobs during operations,” according to the State Department analysis.

House Republicans are still claiming the project would create 120,000 jobs. But that’s based on outdated information. The House Energy Committee’s GOP majority website extrapolates from figures given by Trans Canada two years ago — for a much longer pipeline than is now proposed.

That was before President Obama initially rejected the original Canada-to-Texas project pending changes in the route. Since then, TransCanada has completed a 485-mile segment of the original project — running from Cushing, OK to refineries in Texas — which did not require presidential approval because it did not cross an international border. Now named the “Gulf Coast Pipeline Project,” construction began in August 2012 and was completed this year. It went into operation on Jan. 22.

The current Keystone XL project includes 875 miles within the U.S. And, as noted, even TransCanada says it would create about 42,000 temporary jobs, not 120,000.

Pipelines can be hazardous. An average of 97,376 barrels (4.1 million gallons) of petroleum and other “hazardous liquids” have been spilled each year in pipeline incidents over the last decade, according to the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. These incidents have claimed an average of two lives per year, and resulted in more than $263 million in annual reported property damage as well.

Those figures include the most expensive onshore oil pipeline spill in U.S. history, caused when 30-inch pipe operated by Enbridge ruptured on July 26, 2010, near Marshall, Mich. That dumped more than 1 million gallons of Canadian diluted bitumen — the same material that would be carried in the proposed 36-inch Keystone pipeline — into the Kalamazoo River. Enbridge is still struggling to complete the cleanup, having failed to meet a Dec. 31 Environmental Protection Agency deadline for dredging remaining oil residue that settled on the bottom of the river.

Although Enbridge initially put the spill at about 840,000 gallons, the EPA said last year that 1.15 million gallons had been recovered and 350,000 cubic yards of contaminated river sediment remained to be recovered. Enbridge said in August 2013 that it had spent more than $1 billion on the cleanup and remediation to date, and the figure continues to rise.

A spill from the Keystone could potentially have similar effects. The Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality, in its final evaluation report on the project, found that the properties of the diluted forms of bitumen that would flow through the state in the Keystone pipeline “are similar in many respects to other heavy sour crude oils.” For what it’s worth, TransCanada says it plans to make the Keystone “the safest pipeline ever constructed in the U.S.,” adding more remote shut-off valves and inspections and burying the pipe more deeply than with other pipelines.

And that calamity is by no means an isolated incident.  

This presentation is outstanding in that is shows graphically the Koch reach into so many areas or our lives ... the pipeline segment is at about the 38:00-minute mark. It shows the evidence re: this project - worth your time to watch:

Based on relative safety records to date, the State Department estimated that an average of six deaths per year would result if the Keystone isn’t built and the same amount of oil is shipped by rail instead. More than twice as much oil is likely to be spilled as well, State estimated.

(1)  Tar sands are “game over” for the climate. Canada’s tar sands, which Keystone XL would carry, could contain double the carbon dioxide emitted by global oil use in history — and green lighting the pipeline that would carry them to the global market would be disastrous for climate change.

(2)  The supposed benefits of the tar sands pipeline have been over hyped. While supporters once said that the pipeline would bring gas prices down, experts agree that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline could even increase domestic gas prices — and have little chance of lowering them. Jobs numbers, too, have been wildly inflated; TransCanada gave U.S. officials a job number that was 67 times higher than the number they used in Canada. While every U.S. job is important, the estimates on this project have ranged from 50 permanent jobs, to 2,500 temporary jobs, to TransCanada’s claim of 20,000 jobs. Even unions agree that clean energy jobs outweigh this potential for temporary dirty oil jobs.  

(3)  The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline puts our country’s natural resources at risk. The pipeline route passes through Nebraska’s Ogallala Aquifer (as discussed above), which is the country’s largest source of freshwater as addressed above. Even a single spill could have disastrous consequences for generations to come — and a University of Nebraska at Lincoln analysis of the pipeline finds that it could have 91 major spills in 50 years.

(4)  On Tuesday, Nov. 6, Americans voted against dirty energy and against Big Oil. Big Oil bet big on the election — and lost big. Big Oil-backed groups spent over $270 million on television ads in the last two months of the cycle alone, and have little to show for it. A recent Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research poll found that 64 percent of voters say they have a favorable impression of renewable energy. In a Zogby poll released today, only 12 percent of respondents said that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline was a “priority.” Meanwhile, 48 percent identified renewable energy as a priority.

(5)  The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline compromises our energy security. The tar sands oil that will pass through the pipeline is intended for the international market, making Keystone XL a pipeline that goes through the U.S. — not to the U.S. Furthermore, the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline continues to feed our dangerous addiction to oil that compromises national security and places American troops in harm’s way.

Key Point:  Canada’s pro-industry energy regulator — the National Energy Board — just announced a sweeping audit of TransCanada’s Canadian operations. This is the latest in a long series of accidents, shutdowns and pipeline safety infractions that have hounded the Canadian pipeline operator TransCanada.  Earlier this month, TransCanada was forced to shut its leak prone Keystone I tar sands pipeline down for four days after finding an “anomaly” — a technical term for cracks, corrosion or other defects in a pipeline which may lead to a rupture. These incidents are not unique; TransCanada has a sordid history as a pipeline operator

Don’t take my word for, ask the folks in Upper Michigan along the Kalamazoo River regarding a record spill there.  

Note: Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper once said that “TransCanada could pursue an alternative route through Canada to the West Coast, where oil could be shipped to China and other Asian markets.” However, Canadian Native group opponents call the West Coast option far fetched. They note that Canadian regulators have announced a one-year delay for a similar project that would carry tar sands oil to British Columbia (Canada's west coast as Harper referred to). But, that group has constitutionally protected treaty rights and unsettled land claims that could allow them to block or significantly delay both pipelines.

Finally, Media Matters here takes on and debunks five of the prevailing media myths about Keystone XL.

As I've said all along from my research and actual events, this is still a very bad idea. Stay tuned - this issue is by no means a "done deal."

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