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August 17 2012

22:02

Just 2% of Canadians Deny Climate Change Occurring, Poll Finds

Originally published on EnergyBoom.com

A recent survey conducted by Insightrix Research, Inc. has found that only 2% of Canadians believe climate change is not taking place.

The online poll, commissioned by IPAC CO2 Research Inc., a Saskatchewan-based center studying carbon capture and storage, asked respondents where they stood on the issue of climate change.

32% of participants said they believe climate change is occurring as a result of human activity, and 54% said they believe climate change is happening because of a combination of human activity and natural variation.  Meanwhile, 9% believe climate change is the result of the natural climate cycle.  Far in the minority were respondents (2%) that believed climate change is a hoax.

Conversely, in the United States climate denial represents a much larger chunk of the population, as a recent survey shows. 15% of Americans believe climate change is not occurring.

Much like the United States, Canadians' opinions on climate change vary depending on the region.  The Insightrix survey found that residents in the Prairies (Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba) are least likely to believe humans are changing the climate, while those living in the Maritimes, Quebec, and British Columbia are most likely to hold the belief. 

Almost half (44%) of respondents in Quebec believe anthropogenic climate change is happening, while only 21% of participants in Alberta and Saskatchewan hold the same belief.

This regional divide also exists in regard to fossil fuel consumption.  66% of Albertan respondents believe fossil fuels will be used for electricity production in 2050, while only 37% of Quebecers held the same belief.  Across the country, 51% of Canadians believe fossil fuels will still be used for electricity in 2050.

Carmen Dybwad, CEO of IPAC CO2 Research, said:  "Our survey indicates Canadians from coast to coast overwhelmingly believe climate change is real and is occurring, at least in part due to human activity."

Image credit: ItzaFineDay via Flickr

July 25 2012

15:42

A Squabble Over Moving Oil and Sharing Royalties

Plans for a domestic pipeline in Canada hit a snag as the leaders of Alberta and British Columbia argue over the risks and the spoils.

April 01 2012

23:22

March 23 2012

20:55

Look to Canada for Proof that Neither Presidents Nor Pro-Drilling Policies Control Gas Prices

Another Spring, another round of totally uninformed and illogical arguments about gas prices.

You could be forgiven if you’re feeling some deja vu. As conservatives and Congressional Republicans scramble to blame the president for rising gas prices, you might have the feeling that we’ve been here before.

Oh, that’s right. It was just last year (almost exactly a year ago, actually) that prices were pushing towards $4 per gallon, and everyone from Sarah Palin (in a ludicrously misguided and ill-informed Facebook rant) to Speaker Boehner were misplacing blame for pump prices.

Anyone who takes the time to actually look into it can pretty easily learn that the president alone can’t do much about rising gas prices, through expanded drilling or approving pipelines or whatever else.

The AP just ran a definitive piece that looked at 36 years of data, and found “no statistical correlation between how much oil comes out of U.S. wells and the price at the pump.”

And here are twenty experts from across the political spectrum (including the staunchly conservative American Enterprise Institute and the Cato Institute) stating clearly that domestic drilling has no real effect on gas prices.

A full 92% of economists surveyed replied that gas prices are set by external market forces, and not domestic policies. Even Fox News reported in 2008 that “no President has the power to increase or to lower gas prices.”

Still, the disinformation flies, and so I’ll throw another fact-based argument in the mix. You want more proof that we can’t drill or pipeline our way to lower gas prices? Look north, to Canada.

read more

February 03 2012

21:00

Warren Buffett Exposed: The Oracle of Omaha and the Tar Sands

On January 23, Bloomberg News reported Warren Buffett's Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway (BNSF), owned by his lucrative holding company Berkshire Hathaway, stands to benefit greatly from President Barack Obama’s recent cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline

If built, TransCanada's Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline would carry tar sands crude, or bitumen (“dilbit”) from Alberta, B.C. down to Port Arthur, Texas, where it would be sold on the global export market

If not built, as revealed recently by DeSmogBlog, the grass is not necessarily greener on the other side, and could include increased levels of ecologically hazardous gas flaring in the Bakken Shale, or else many other pipeline routes moving the prized dilbit to crucial global markets.

Rail is among the most important infrastructure options for ensuring tar sands crude still moves to key global markets, and the industry is pursuing rail actively. But transporting tar sands crude via rail is in many ways a dirtier alternative to the KXL pipeline. “Railroads too present environmental issues. Moving crude on trains produces more global warming gases than a pipeline,” explained Bloomberg.

A key mover and shaker behind the push for more rail shipments is Warren Buffett, known by some as the “Oracle of Omaha” — of "Buffett Tax" fame — and the third richest man in the world, with a net worth of $39 billion. With or without Keystone XL, Warren Buffett stands to profit enormously from multiple aspects of the Alberta Tar Sands project. He also, importantly, maintains close ties with President Barack Obama.

read more

December 16 2011

02:32

'Consumer Energy Alliance' Front Group Exposed by The Tyee and Salon

In a must-read piece co-published today by Salon.com and The TyeeGeoff Dembicki exposes the dark underbelly of the public relations and lobbying industry, revealing the interconnectedness between Alberta tar sands movers and shakers in Alberta and their oily compatriots in Washington. 

The investigative article focuses on the fossil fuel industry front group Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA), which is run out of the offices of the PR firm HBW Resources, headed by David Holt, Andrew Browning, and Michael Whatley.

Geoff Dembicki's article "Big Oil and Canada thwarted U.S. carbon standards," exposes CEA's effort to thwart government efforts to favor relatively cleaner conventional fuels over the dirtiest forms of extreme unconventional energy like the Alberta tar sands. 

Dembicki reveals how CEA influenced the debate at both the national and state-by-state levels on low carbon fuel standards (LCFS), working to defeat or delay any efforts to differentiate between the emissions footprints of extreme and unconventional fuels like tar sands oil and cleaner-but-still-dirty conventional oil.

Oil industry power players, including BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Marathon, Shell and Norway’s Statoil are among the CEA's key financially backers, and many of these companies also happen to have deep ties to the Alberta tar sands.

DeSmogBlog has previously written about CEA, as has The Tyee on numerous occassions. But what makes Dembicki's article so unique this time around is the valuable insight into CEA's behavior revealed in records obtained via the Freedom of Information Act from the Alberta government. The documents lend insight into how CEA interacts with the Alberta government, and in turn, how the Alberta government, working alongside CEA, influences the American government at both the state and federal level.

An excerpt from the article explains the significance of the FOIA documents:

The messages lay bare a sophisticated and stealthy public relations offensive, one designed to manipulate the U.S. political system; to deluge the media with messages favorable to the tar-sands industry; to sway key legislators at state and federal levels; and most importantly, to defeat any attempt to make the gasoline and diesel pumped everyday into U.S. vehicles less damaging to the climate. The goal of it all? "Defeat" Obama's effort to reduce carbon consumption and keep America hooked on Canada's $441 billion tar sands industry, no matter what the cost to our planet's future.

The article demonstrates once again what the father of modern propaganda, Edward Bernays, referred to as the "invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country” in his 1928 classic, Propaganda.

Some highlights from the article:

  • Michael Whatley (the "W" in HBW Resources) worked overtime to defeat low carbon fuel standards, dating back to December 2009, waging an all out lobbying assault to ensure that low carbon fuel standards would not be implemented, working on a state-by-state basis. How did Whatley gain so much influence, you ask?

Dembicki explains,

"Whatley served as attorney and senior policy advisor on George W. Bush’s first presidential campaign and transition team. And Whatley was later appointed chief of staff to Senator Elizabeth Dole, a former cabinet secretary and the wife of GOP elder statesman Bob Dole."

Whatley is now in private practice at HBW seeking to influence policymakers on behalf of his industry clients, a Beltway Bandit par excellance.

  • Another key player is Whatley's close pal, Gary Mar, a former Canadian politician and "smooth-talking and ambitious diplomat at the Canadian embassy" in Washington, DC, who played an instrumental role while CEA/HBW waged the anti-LCFS battle throughout the U.S. 

Dembicki writes,

"Mar’s lobbying wasn’t just confined to the U.S. capitol. Anytime state policymakers tried to introduce global warming laws potentially bad for Alberta’s oil sands, Mar hit the road, ready to glad-hand and charm. One major victory came in early 2009, when he apparently worked closely with the Maryland legislature to remove a climate bill that would have banned sales of high-carbon road fuel."

Both Mar and Whatley understood full well that the apperance, or illusion, of a mass groundswell of support for dirty air is necessary — astroturfing and front groups are key tools in deceptive PR propaganda campaigns.

Dembicki summarizes,

"Despite their skills and experience, Mar and Whatley knew that defeating climate policy required allies. That’s why one of the first strategy proposals in Whatley’s January 25, 2010, campaign briefing to Mar was to team up with 'affiliated energy coalitions and trade associations, thought leaders, elected officials, unions and key allies.' The goal was to enlist these players to 'build opposition' towards low carbon fuel standards 'in each of our target regions.' The campaign apparently needed 'state-based and regional 3rd party advocates for Canadian oil sands' to give it legitimacy."

These "third party advocates" included the likes of "airlines, truckers, railroads, highway users, shippers," or those most dependent on fossil fuels.

Corporate front group "think tanks" also play a key role, Dembicki explains: 

"Whatley’s proposal suggested engaging with seven prominent think tanks, two of which, the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation, received millions of dollars in funding from Koch Industries to question the science behind global warming."

Read the whole article and check out the emails obtained via FOIA for a glimpse inside the world of unethical dirty energy PR campaigns.

Stay tuned for the forthcoming original investigation by DeSmogBlog about CEA, as well.

November 10 2011

21:27

Breaking: State Department Delays Keystone XL Decision Until 2013

The State Department announced today that they would “seek additional information” about the Keystone XL pipeline, meaning that they will take another 12 months at least to re-review the proposed pipeline route. This new review will build on (or make up) for the woefully-incompletely Environmental Impact Statement.

Here's the State Department's official language:


…given the concentration of concerns regarding the environmental sensitivities of the current proposed route through the Sand Hills area of Nebraska, the Department has determined it needs to undertake an in-depth assessment of potential alternative routes in Nebraska. …
Among the relevant issues that would be considered are environmental concerns (including climate change), energy security, economic impacts, and foreign policy.

The decision comes in the immediate wake of a massive protest at the White House on Sunday, as roughly 12,000 anti-pipeline activists circled the White House in a “solidarity hug.” The action was the latest in a series of protests and events staged by opponents of the proposed TransCanada pipeline that would funnel tar sands crude from Canada down to the Gulf Coast in Texas, much of it bound for export to other nations.

The decision to delay is a clear testament to the power of public engagement in the political process and good old-fashioned protest. But the battle isn't over yet.


Since the first of the civilly disobedience activists was arrested in August, a steady stream of negative news has betrayed the proposed TransCanada pipeline project.

There was the scandalously cozy relationship between TransCanada and the State Department. TransCanada got booed out of Memorial Stadium, as sacred a place as exists in all of Nebraska. A report (PDF) revealed Valero and other refineries’ plans to export the tar sands crude that would flow through Keystone XL, casting doubt on pipeline proponent’s claims that Canadian tar sands would contribute to American “energy security.” The State Department admitted to losing tens of thousands of public comments about the pipeline. Industry’s claims of Keystone job creation were found to be inflated through fuzzy math and outright fabrication.

I believe that it’s safe to say that none of this would have happened — or at least wouldn’t have been exposed and covered by the mainstream media — without the ongoing attention that the #noKXL movement has been bringing to the pipeline issue.

Bill McKibben of 350.org explained it like such, on behalf of TarSandsAction:

Six months ago, almost no one outside the pipeline route even knew about Keystone. One month ago, a secret poll of “energy insiders” by the National Journal found that “virtually all” expected easy approval of the pipeline by year’s end.  As late as last week the CBC reported that Transcanada was moving huge quantities of pipe across the border and seizing land by eminent domain, certain that its permit would be granted. A done deal has come spectacularly undone.

Responding to the (then potential) delay, TransCanada’s chief executive Russ Girling took a threatening tone to the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, hinting that any delay could kill the pipeline plans altogether. "How long will those customers wait for Canadian crude oil to get to the marketplace before they sort of throw up their hands and say this is just never going to happen?"

The decision is far from final, and the political manuevering was certainly to put the decision off until after the election. But, for now, what started as incredibly long odds (McKibben himself has said that they were 1,000-to-1 when this campaign started back in the summer), is now totally up in the air.

For now, the delay itself is a victory for pipeline opponents. Every month the decision is deterred, TransCanada loses money and the possibility of abandoning the Keystone XL entirely goes up.

Two years ago, I talked to Tim DeChristopher (aka Bidder 70) after he had been arrested for “disrupting” a government oil and gas lease auction in Utah’s wildlands. One of his responses carries serious resonance through these Keystone XL actions today. DeChristopher told me:
  

You know how Gandhi said you have to “be the change you want to see in the world.” Well the change that most of us wish to see is a carbon tax, but our leaders aren’t doing that for us, so Gandhi’s call is then for us to be the carbon tax. What does that mean — to “be the carbon tax?” To cost the fossil fuel industry money in any way that we can. Getting in their way, slowing them down, shutting them down. Doing whatever we can to be that tax.

Everyone participating in this ongoing Tar Sands Action is “becoming” that carbon tax. They're slowing down TransCanada, slowing down the movement of that crude, slowing down development of the tar sands, and costing the extractive fossil fuel industries money. It might not break the bank, but in the absence of an “official” price on carbon, it’s the best course that climate activists can take.

Now climate hawks have to remain vigilant to ensure that the Keystone XL pipeline is never built, and none of the other proposed efforts to expand the tar sands development for export markets can be tolerated either.  With the news today from the International Energy Agency that the world is headed for irreversible climate change in the next five years unless we rapidly change our energy system, the planet can't afford the development of the tar sands.

Don't take my word for it, here it is in the words of the IEA's chief economist:

"The door is closing," Fatih Birol, chief economist at the International Energy Agency, said. "I am very worried – if we don't change direction now on how we use energy, we will end up beyond what scientists tell us is the minimum [for safety]. The door will be closed forever." 

November 06 2011

22:05

Thousands Protest Keystone XL Pipeline Project

The police estimate that 5,000 protesters turned out to oppose the pipeline, which would carry oil from the Canadian province of Alberta to refineries in Texas.

September 23 2011

18:55

The Best Crude in the World…..SAND! (Tar Sand, that is)


Musings of a Malcontent: Environmental Irony in an Imperfect (but humorous?) World“Musings of a Malcontent” is a weekly op-ed by GlobalWarmingisReal contributor Carlyle Coash

Apparently I have been living in a hole in the earth. I thought I was aware and paying attention, but apparently I am actually living in a subterranean borough somewhere on a vast Nebraskan wheat field. I would not be surprised if Prairie Dogs are more in tune with world events than I.

So here it is.

Did you know there is a plan afoot to build an oil pipeline from Canada to Texas? From what I can tell it will run from Alberta through Montana, South Dakota, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Texas.

I guess I am going to have to relocate my hole.

Actually if I read it right, there will actually be two pipelines, running parallel at points since some of the pipeline already exists. The new segment is called the Keystone XL Pipeline. A few of the highlights:

  1. They plan to bury it at least 4 feet underground.
  2. It will run right over the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the largest fresh water reserves in the world.
  3. It will run through a large wetlands ecosystem, as well as some other untouched wildlife areas.
  4. It will primarily be transporting Bitumen – which is heavy crude oil mixed with a lot of sand.

Yes, you read correctly. Oil sand. Nothing like a 2,000-plus mile pipeline of oily sand running right through the country to make you feel taken completely advantage of.

Excellent.One of the reasons stated as to why we are doing such a thing is that we can now finally end our dependence on oil from the Middle East. Thank God. I sure am tired of us trying to wrangle control of all these oil producing areas out of the hands of those who live there. They are so overprotective. It is very rude, I think.

I mean, we need it more. I think we have made that abundantly clear over the last several years. Heck, even solar companies who are getting billions in government funding are going bankrupt – if that does not tell you something then what does? Plus, how do they expect me to keep up with my daily crude oil hair soak. (I am not kidding – it is a bargain at Amazon.). Since the Middle East is being difficult, it is time for us to move on. It is time for us to kneel down in front of a kinder, gentler Lord who will hold us in their strong oil slick arms and rock us to sleep.

Who better to do this for us than Canada?

In the end I imagine it’s much better to be Canada’s bitch. They at least won’t be chopping off anyone’s head on TV or lighting effigies of our president on fire. They won’t likely have a concern of being invaded all the time, unstable and unpredictable in their supply to us. They will not require us to go in and bribe or execute their leadership whenever they get too dogmatic or totalitarian. Canada will be a different kind of master.

Canada is a neighbor. A neighbor with the same language – except for that wacky French-speaking region – and many customs similar to our own. They like hockey. They are very patriotic. They have given us many of our best entertainers and performers. They are even smart and have good healthcare. Yes I know – evil socialist healthcare – but healthcare nonetheless.

Plus they have stronger beer – which I think we will need plenty of to keep us in a subdued state of mind. A drunken stupor is exactly what they will need from us. After all they are making us believe oil enriched sand is the answer to our energy woes.

I mean really, oil sand?

Has it gotten that desperate…um I mean… ridiculous? No, desperate works. Apparently the energy it takes to refine this crap into anything useful is almost equal to the energy it produces. Do we really think a 1-to-1 exchange like that is going to cut it? Aren’t we looking for a  - get the most out of our resources as possible – kind of scenario?

Luckily this project has garnered a fair amount of protest over the last months, so at least a few people have crawled out of their holes. Let’s hope it has some effect. With the recent pipeline disasters this year I have little faith that the Keystone XL won’t break in half and dumps millions of gallons of crude into that lovely Aquifer we have in the middle of the country. Forget your Brita filter working on that.

Well my crude oil hair wash just caught fire. I hate when that happens. Too bad I don’t have any sand to put it out.

Hey Canada – could you help me out?

Image source: The Alopecian Muse

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September 06 2011

23:39

New West Partnership Includes CAPP Lobbyists in Fracking Policy Development

The British Columbia Ministry of Energy was designated a “lead agency” in a backroom collaboration with Alberta and Saskatchewan to address water concerns for the province’s rapidly expanding shale gas industry. The New West Partnership, an undisclosed collaboration between Canada's three western provinces to expedite shale gas extraction, has held four secret meetings since July 2011 to discuss water issues related to fracking, according to a leaked briefing note, released today by the BC Tap Water Alliance (BCTWA).

The leaked document, including an attached directive, outlines the group’s strategies to streamline gas production across the West while minimizing public and stakeholder involvement. The partnership project, which is aimed to design streamlined policy regarding gas extraction including the controversial technique fracking, is also posed to curtail public concern with “proactive” public relations campaigns that will respond to the “ill-informed campaigns” of environmental NGOs, public media and local communities. 

The Project Charter outlines the New West Partnership’s intentions to manage public opinion with ‘consistent messages’ regarding environmental concerns which are “potentially problematic” for shale gas development. Despite the group’s pretense to stakeholder transparency and “enhanced communication,” the only external body consulted so far is Canada’s largest oil and gas lobby, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP). According to the BCTWA press release, the internal meetings held by provincial regulators and government officials included three unregistered lobbyists representing CAPP, prompting a complaint from the Alberta Federation of Labour.  
 
After receiving a copy of the leaked documents the Alberta Federation of Labour filed an official complaint with Alberta’s Ethics Commissioner citing a “possible contravention of the Lobbyist Act.” Although CAPP is a registered lobby body, the Federation conceded, none of the present lobbyists were registered to lobby on behalf of CAPP. The in-house meetings, where government officials hosted government and public relations consultants from Encana Corporation, Canadian Natural Resources Limited and Shell Canada, caused some disquiet for the Federation, causing them to state: “it is our belief that the public interest has been undermined in this case.”
 
Shale gas extraction and fracking, although occurring at accelerating rates across the three provinces, have escaped much of the public approval process. In British Columbia especially, calls for an independent investigation into the process have gone largely unheeded. Similar demands in Alberta pose no exception.
 
“The leaked documents from Alberta are fundamentally disturbing, and challenge the core principles of our democracy” says BCTWA coordinator Will Koop. “The elected leaders and executive energy administrators of western Canada are caving into the petroleum industry, and are excluding public stakeholders from the fracking table.”
 
“If CAPP gets its way, not only will the public suffer from an ill-natured public relations scheme thrust upon it by its own government, but it will have to fund it as well.”
 
In an interview with DeSmogBlog, Koop went on to say, "I know from experience that the government has been ignoring our calls, calls from other groups, and from independent MLAs to investigate the process. This document and the information that is being leaked is going to help the public understand where the politics are going."
 
Part of the problem, says Koop, is that shale gas development tends to occur in remote areas. "I think in part the lack of public engagement has to do with where the fracking is occurring - its quite far removed from where the general public lives and there hasn't been enough critical coverage in the media over a period of a number of years to deal with these concerns."
 
"British Columbia is kind of being captured by the politics of Alberta and the issue of fracking hasn't really gotten the proper attention, evaluation and analysis by British Columbians." The government agencies in BC, continues Koop, are keeping their distance from the issue. The Ministry of Forests, he says, has not completed a thorough analysis of the lands being used and sold through the leasing process run by the BC Oil and Gas Commission.  And the Commission itself is dropping the ball. "What we need is a comprehensive evaluation of what is going on and it isn't there. The Oil and Gas Commission is not doing it and they are the ones with the mandate to do so."
 
The 2011 BC Oil and Gas Conference, slated to begin tomorrow, is meant to be hosted in the spirit of “Communities Leading Change,” yet the lack of community participation to date suggests that unconventional gas development is meant to occur with or without public consent. Like other jurisdictions, Canada’s western provinces need to find the community voice necessary to join the discussion and to ensure that more than just industry lobbyists are at the table.

July 29 2011

19:14

The Many Problems With Tar Sands Pipelines

Note: This post is part of an ongoing series about North American pipelines. For an introduction and links to the wide-ranging coverage--from safety to legal issues to the business and economics to vulnerabilities--see this regularly-updated intro post.

On Monday, the House passed a bill that would force the Obama administration to make a final decision on TransCanada's controversial Keystone XL pipeline by November 1. The Keystone XL project (which regular DeSmogBlog readers should be familiar with) would funnel tar sands oil from Alberta's massive reserves down to Gulf Coast refineries in Texas.

This isn't the place to discuss in too much depth the various and plentiful problems with Alberta tar sands itself -- from extraction to transportation to refining to combustion, it's the dirtiest oil on the planet. From a climate perspective, the Alberta tar sands contain enough carbon to lock the planet into climate chaos. In the words of NASA climatologist Jim Hansen, "if the tar sands are thrown into the mix it is essentially game over."

Because Keystone XL is so controversial, and because its construction could be such a tipping point in the climate fight, a broad and diverse coalition of scientists and activists are digging in their heels for a big fight, and planning a multi-week action at the White House. (Here's more on how to get involved.)

But since this is a post about pipelines, I'm going to focus on how tar sands pipelines are different than those that carry conventional crude, how they're much more prone to leaks and spills, and how those spills are particularly bad for the environment.

First, you need to understand what -- physically and chemically --  tar sands actually is. According to the Bureau of Land Managment, tar sands

...are a combination of clay, sand, water, and bitumen, a heavy black viscous oil. Tar sands can be mined and processed to extract the oil-rich bitumen, which is then refined into oil. The bitumen in tar sands cannot be pumped from the ground in its natural state; instead tar sand deposits are mined, usually using strip mining or open pit techniques, or the oil is extracted by underground heating with additional upgrading.

Once upon a time, the tar sands oil that flowed through North American pipelines was in the form of a synthetic crude. In other words, the sticky, viscous tar sands bitumin was upgraded to a more free-flowing form of crude before entering the pipes. But recently, the industry has found it cheaper and easier -- if not as safe or stable -- to dilute the bitumen with liquid natural gas, creating a substance called diluted bitumen, or "DilBit."

A joint report by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Pipeline Safety Trust, the National Wildlife Federation and the Sierra Club, released in February, spotlights the specific hazards of pipelines carrying this tar sands "DilBit."

The report describes DilBit as "a highly corrosive, acidic, and potentially unstable blend of thick raw bitumen and volatile natural gas liquid condensate."

Testifying this past Tuesday in front of the House Energy and Commerce's Energy and Power Subcommittee, NRDC expert Anthony Swift laid out the specific risk of this DilBit to the pipelines themselves:

By itself, bitumen is virtually solid at room temperature - to move it through a pipeline, producers must diluted it with light, highly volatile natural gas liquids. The thick, abrasive mixture, called diluted bitumen, is then pumped through pipelines at high pressure - generating enough friction to reach temperatures of 150 degrees Fahrenheit.

Besides the heat, both Swift's testimony (PDF) and the joint pipeline report warn that DilBit has higher sulfur and chloride salt contents, both of which can lead to corrosion and cracking. There's also high levels of quartz, rutile, and pyrite particles, all of which are highly abrasive. The "Tar Sands Pipeline Safety Risks" report specifies that diluted bitumen:

  • is more acidic, thick, and sulfuric than conventional crude oil;
  • is up to seventry times more viscous than concentional crudes;
  • contains fifteen to twenty times higher acid concentrations than conventional crudes and five to ten times as much sulfur as conventional crudes, and that "the additional sulfur can lead to the weakening or embrittlement of pipelines."

What's more, due to an unfortunate quirk of DilBit's chemical composition, underground leaks can be much more difficult for monitors to detect. (If you're curious about the finer points of this chemistry, check out the joint Tar Sands Pipeline Safety Risks report (PDF).)

So enough with the unfortunate chemistry of DilBit; we also have some empirical evidence to look at. With even a relatively short history, there are already plenty of spills and leaks involving DilBit, many of which have been covered here on DeSmogBlog.

The Keystone I pipeline (the first in TransCanada's Keystone system that could eventually include Keystone XL) has infamously spilled 12 times in under a year of operation. (This despite assurances from the company that leaks would occur from Keystone only "once every seven years.")

A May breach at a North Dakota pumping station spewed over 500 barrels, like a geyser, into the air. Local landowner Bob Banderet noted the discrepancy between TransCanada's predictions and the reality: "They said this couldn't happen," Banderet said. "It's a once in a thousand year occurence, and here it is right in front of you."

There's more. In 2006, corrosion in Alberta's Rainbow pipeline caused over 343,000 gallons of oil to leak near Slave Lake, as Emma Pullman reported earlier here. Almost exactly a year ago this week, roughly 800,000 gallons of DilBut spilled into the Kalamazoo River in Western Michigan from a pipeline owned by the Canadian company Enbridge. In fact, in 2010, Enbridge's Lakehead system spilled over a dozen times, accounting for more than half of all crude spilled in the United States last year.

Even that recent, awful Exxon Mobil spill that spoiled the "last great river," the Yellowstone River, has ties to tar sands. Exxon Mobil officials admitted earlier this month that the Silvertip pipeline "routinely transported" tar sands oil. 

Finally, after the tar sands oil does inevitably spill, cleanup is a heck of a lot harder than normal crude spills. There's proof in Western Michigan. Reporter Kari Lydersen traveled to Marshall, Michigan to report on cleanup efforts a year later that Enbridge spill. Her report for OnEarth is sobering:

When that combination, known as DilBit, spilled out of the ruptured pipeline, the benzene and other chemicals in the mixture went airborne, forcing mandatory evacuations of surrounding homes (many of which were later bought by Enbridge because their owners couldn't safely return), while the thick, heavy bitumen sank into the water column and coated the river and lake bottom, mixing with sediment and suffocating bottom-dwelling plants, animals, and micro-organisms.

Surface skimmers and vacuums were no help, and a full year later, EPA officials and scientists are still working on a plan to remove submerged oil from about 200 acres of river and lake bottom. EPA officials had given Enbridge an August 31 deadline to get all the oil out, but they now say a full cleanup could take years.  "Where we thought we might be winding down our piece of the response, we're actually ramping back up," said Mark Durno, one of EPA's on-scene coordinators. "The submerged oil is a real story -- it's a real eye-opener. ... In larger spills we've dealt with before, we haven't seen nearly this footprint of submerged oil, if we've seen any at all."


Setting aside all the other threats and hazards posed by tar sands, there remains the basic, physical truth that contemporary pipelines simply cannot safely and securely transport its diluted bitumen form. And when the DilBit does spill, it is a much bigger problem than the already devastating impacts of spilled crude. 

Still, according to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers' numbers, American imports of DilBit have increased five fold over the past decade. If the Keystone XL project is approved and built, that number will only rise, and so will the number of spills, and the public costs of dealing with them.

MAPS OF TAR SANDS PIPELINES IN THE U.S.

Here is a map put together by NRDC of the existing and proposed tar sands DilBit pipelines:
NRDC Tar Sands DilBit Pipelines

For a closer look at the network of existing and proposed tar sands pipelines and refineries, download this map [PDF] put together by NoDirtyEnergy.org.


Photo credit: National Transportation Safety Board

June 16 2011

12:12

Who Will Step Up to Meet Oil Demand?

A report predicts that Canada, Brazil, Colombia and the United States will come to the rescue as oil demand starts to outstrip production over the next five years.

June 13 2011

18:07

Enviro News Wrap: No More Arsenic Chicken; Snowpack Decline; Tar Sands Pipeline Blocked. and more…


The Latest Environmental News HeadlinesGlobalWarmingisReal contributor Anders Hellum-Alexander wraps-up the climate and environmental news headlines for the past week:

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June 02 2011

23:15

UK Opposed to Europe’s Tar Sands Import Ban

While most European countries are working on a proposal that would effectively ban the use of Canadian tar sands in the European Union, the United Kingdom has made it clear that they will not support any measure to reduce their reliance on tar sands. Britain joins the Netherlands as one of only two countries that want to continue to have the option to use oil derived from Canadian tar sands.

The EU is working to produce a new “fuel directive” this year that would reduce the amount of emissions acceptable from fuels used for transportation. The directive would require a 6% reduction in the amount of emissions from vehicle fuel over the next 9 years. Because the emissions from tar sands run about 23% higher than those from traditional fossil fuels, this would mean that their use in the EU would be effectively prohibited.
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From The Independent:

To date, the UK and the Netherlands, two nations with the strongest connections to oil giants BP and Shell, are the only two states wishing to remove reference to tar sands from the draft proposal, according to the coalition of green groups working on the directive.

Canada's tar sands contain the world's largest oil reserves after Saudi Arabia, but extracting the oil can release up to three times more greenhouse gases.

It is estimated the sands hold about 175 billion barrels of recoverable oil, but the trapped crude is in such thick form that large amounts of energy and water are needed to refine it. The development of Canada's tar sands has led to a push by oil companies to set up similar ventures in Russia and Congo.

European leaders and activists are afraid that if countries like Britain and the Netherlands continue to court tar sands imports from Canada, their entire climate initiative will fail.

Emma Pullman pointed out recently that the Canadian government has been actively, and secretly, working with EU leaders to help push the use of tar sands. From her report:

The Canadian government has carried out a secret plan to boost investment and keep world markets open for Alberta's filthy tar sands oil. Their strategies include collaboration with major oily allies to aggressively undermine European environmental measures.

In December 2009, the federal government "oil sands advocacy strategy" was launched out of fear that growing opposition could curb European investment in the industry and that the EU restrictions on tar sands imports could be mimicked globally.

While very little of Alberta's tar sands oil is actually exported to Europe (the lion's share goes to the U.S.), entrenched tar sands defenders in Canadian government and the oil companies who stand to profit from it were concerned that European efforts to favor low-carbon fuel sources could influence other countries seeking ways to reduce global warming pollution.

Check out DeSmogBlog's extensive coverage of the tar sands and our fact sheet about the dangers of this dirty energy source.

May 13 2011

14:45

A Less Dirty Energy Reliant Development Pathway In Alberta’s Future?

In July 2009, Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach created the Premier's Council for Economic Strategy. This 12-member council of various global experts was convened to provide guidance on how the province should maintain its prosperity through 2040. Earlier this month, after nearly two years of research, public meetings and private debate, the experts released their long-awaited scoping report, Shaping Alberta’s Future: Report of the Premier’s Council for Economic Strategy [pdf].

Together they sought to answer [pdf]: “What intentional choices should Albertans be making now to shape our future, the future of our grandchildren and the future of our province?”

According to council Chair David Emerson, a business executive and former federal cabinet minister, the council took a distinctive approach when evaluating Alberta’s future: “Our starting place was a strong conviction that “business-as-usual” is not an option for Alberta.”
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The council does call on the province to continue developing its dirty tar sands oil, at least for the time being. But, in a break from the norm, this group of experts emphatically advocates for an immediate reorientation of Alberta’s short-term and oil-dependent development strategy. The authors make clear that the tar sands are environmentally damaging, and serve as a dangerous distraction from the need to forge a path toward sustainable development.

In charting Alberta's future, the council recognizes that relentless tar sands expansion cannot support a growing population and an entire economy in the long term. In fact, Alberta’s reliance on exploiting the destructive tar sands places the province in a highly vulnerable position, since oil revenues are necessary for the province to fill the gap between tax revenues and minimum expenditures on public services.

The pollution and ecological destruction stemming from tar sands development is also fast overshadowing the short-term economic benefits associated with the heavily subsidized crude oil projects. The report describes the fate of the province as follows:

“Alberta’s prosperity currently depends on the sale of energy to the U.S., and increasingly on oil sands as the source of that energy. The province is vulnerable as a result. We say this not because there is a danger of running out of raw materials – Alberta’s energy resources are massive – but because the production costs of heavy oil from oil sands are among the highest in the world, and because our reputation for orderly and responsible development is under attack.”

“We need the discipline to execute plans to broaden the economic base over the long term, starting now and staying the course consistently over many years.”

Considering that countries all over the world are trying to reduce their carbon pollution and dependence on dirty fossil fuels, the council found that if there was ever a slowdown in tar sands oil exports, or if oil was replaced by lower-cost cleaner alternatives, then “no other sector of the [Albertan] economy is in a position to even come close to replacing the jobs and wealth created by the energy sector.”

Underlining the importance of taking this report and its implications seriously is the fact that in the last week, the province has suffered its worst oil spill in 35 years. Approximately 4.5 million liters of oil (28,000 barrels) leaked into a wetland area some 30 kilometers from the mainly Lubicon Cree Nation hamlet of Little Buffalo, 460 kilometers from the provincial capital, Edmonton.

As expected, band spokesman Garrett Tomlinson said residents are worried about this spill:

"The biggest concern that's been identified is the aftermath that's going to be left behind by this environmental catastrophe. What the long-term environmental and health impacts are going to be for the people here…and how we're going to move forward to mitigate those negative impacts…"

Ironically, the spill was contained by a beaver dam and not by the pipeline’s owner, Plains Midstream Canada, the Canadian arm of Rainbow All American Pipeline, which was also the source of a leak of some 200,000 liters of oil near Slave Lake in 2006.

In January, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper received and rejected a report from a Conservative-leaning advisory panel – one which he appointed – because the members called for Canada to cut its carbon emissions and take strong action on climate change.

Here’s hoping that Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach - who hand-picked the members of Alberta’s Council for Economic Strategy - acts differently and takes heed of this latest report. It’s the only responsible approach, especially given the recent health threat and disaster in Little Buffalo, and the ongoing environmental degradation caused by the ultra-dirty tar sands.

See video

March 31 2011

11:45

European Union Pushing Back on Canada's Taxpayer Funded Tar Sands Lobbying

Canada does not - as yet - export much tar sands oil to Europe. So why, you might ask, have the Canadian and Alberta governments been working overtime using tax dollars to fund a massive misinformation and lobbying campaign on the other side of the Atlantic?

There's a clue in this press release from January announcing Alberta Energy Minister Ron Liepert's $40,000 lobbying jaunts to the US and Europe: "The European Union is not currently a major market for Alberta’s oil sands products, but any legislation or tariffs adopted by the union’s government can serve as a model for individual nations around the world. We want to continue to share our story with the legislators so they have the facts about our clean energy strategies"

(I'll let the "clean energy strategies" rubbish slide for now.)

It's not about protecting existing markets. At the moment the vast majority of exported tar sands oil goes to the US. For the most part, it's not even about securing a regulatory environment in Europe that protects future potential markets (although that is no doubt a contributing factor). I'll tell you why the Canadian and Albertan governments are so worried that they've been applying pressure on European legislators to a degree at least one EU parliamentarian has declared "unacceptable".

It's about precedent. And they're scared.

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The EU is on the verge of what will effectively amount to a ban on tar sands oil. This will have very little impact on Europe's oil supplies, but will set a global precedent, sending a huge message to the rest of the world that Canada's tar sands are producing a product that is too dirty, unethical, unwanted, and unneeded. This is what Suncor, BP, TransCanada, and their extremely close friends in the Canadian government are most concerned about.

Here's what Liepert had to say when asked by the Globe and Mail to comment on the EU developments:

"We think it’s important to look at these things scientifically and comprehensively"

Actually I couldn't agree more.

Scientific research published last month backs up the EU's proposal that tar sands oil be assigned an emissions value of 107 grams per megajoule, a measure of how much global warming gas is produced for each unit of energy you get when the fuel is burned. That's far greater than conventional crude oil's 87 grams per megajoule.

The reason for this difference is no secret. Huge amounts of heat are needed to extract bitumen from the sand, increasing the total emissions from tar sands oil far beyond just what's released when the refined fuel is eventually burned. At issue is whether or not the EU's Fuel Quality Directive will recognise this, and specify appropriately higher emissions figures for tar sands oil than conventional crude.

The EU is trying to base their decision on science. Canada is trying to arm-twist them into basing it on what's most politically expedient for the billion dollar companies strip-mining Alberta.

It was looking like Canada's bullying and misinformation campaign on behalf of the tar sands mega-corporations might be working until last week when the EU's Climate Change Commissioner Connie Hedegaard announced her intention to push ahead with targeting tar sands and shale oil as high-carbon fuels.

The directive wouldn't actually prohibit countries from importing tar sands oil, but by simply labeling it accurately as a high-carbon fuel, EU commitments to reduce emissions would effectively make it economically unviable to import, shutting the tar sands out of European markets.

But remember this was never primarily about European markets. The real reason for Canada's desperate lobbying efforts is much closer to home.

Pressure is mounting on US legislators to put in place similar low-carbon fuel regulations, and opposition to TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would pump tar sands oil to Texas refineries and the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline that would take tar sands crude west to Asian markets continues to grow.

A precendent set now by the European Union would make it far more politically feasible for the United States to follow suit, and might just be enough to tip the balance permanently against Canada's dirty tar sands oil.

Image: UK Tar Sands Network

February 19 2011

23:44

New Report: Keystone XL Pipeline Is Not Safe

TransCanada Corporation is facing another key hurdle in its efforts to obtain State Department approval for its proposed Keystone XL pipeline to deliver dirty tar sands oil from Northern Alberta to Texas refineries in the Gulf of Mexico.

On Friday, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Pipeline Safety Trust, the National Wildlife Federation and the Sierra Club jointly published a new report [pdf] which details the likelihood that there will be leaks and major oil spills into waterways along the pipeline's path.

The report explicitly states how tar sands oil is more corrosive than conventional oil and therefore is a much higher risk to pipeline systems. <!--break-->The report notes that it is:


…more acidic, thick, and sulfuric than conventional crude oil…contains fifteen to twenty times higher acid concentrations than conventional crudes and five to ten times as much sulfur as conventional crudes. It is up to seventy times more viscous than conventional crudes. The additional sulfur can lead to the weakening or embrittlement of pipelines.


Because of its damaging effects to pipeline systems, tar sands oil spills will be more frequent than with conventional oil and as such, more devastating to the health and livelihoods of residents, farms and communities:


Alberta’s hazardous liquid system had 218 spills greater than 26 gallons per 10,000 miles of pipeline caused by internal corrosion from 2002 to 2010, compared to 13.6 spills greater than 26 gallons per 10,000 miles of pipeline from internal corrosion reported in the United States…

U.S. residents like Randy Thompson, a Nebraska landowner whose ranch would be crossed by the Keystone XL pipeline, fear what may occur if this project is approved:


I just don’t understand why we’d put our aquifer at risk. If oil gets into the water, we’re done. You can’t drink oily water and you can’t irrigate crops with it.


In a teleconference, Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, director of the NRDC’s international program and the report's co-author notes that as:

...Canada delivers a greater and greater percentage of our oil, their corrosive products will take a greater and greater toll on our pipelines…

We need new safety standards in the United States that ensure our protection from raw tar sands oil in our pipelines.


Elizabeth McGowan over at Solve Climate is also covering this story and elaborates on Democrat efforts in the Senate to heighten pipeline safety.  Specifically, a recent measure proposed by Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) aims to:


…strengthen the authority of the Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) through fiscal year 2014 by requiring:

•    All local and state government agencies and their contractors to notify "one-call" notification centers before digging
•    Time limits on accident and leak notification by pipeline operators to local and state government officials and emergency responders
•    Pipeline operators to make information and inspections available to the public on the PHMSA’s Web site
•    Authorization for phased-in hiring of additional pipeline inspectors and pipeline safety support employees


While increased safety measures are vital and on the way, it is certain that this report delivers one more reason for the State Department to decline this dirty energy project which will only deepen the U.S. and Canada's dependence on fossil fuel energy.

February 14 2011

19:38

The Facts Are In, The Tar Sands Are Dirty, But Industry Spin Campaign Continues

Last year, as part of its review of the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline planned to deliver dirty tar sands oil from Alberta to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that the carbon emissions from Canadian oil sands crude would be approximately 82% greater than average US crude.
 
Tar sands oil producers, fossil fuel advocates and Canadian and Alberta politicians were understandably worried about the reputation of their dirty oil. To battle these new facts, these groups have actively engaged in a campaign to greenwash the tar sands by promoting it as "ethical oil".  They've even commissioned their own report by the Cambridge Energy Research Associates suggesting that emissions from tar sands oil were only 5-15% higher than traditional oil products.  <!--break-->


So why should we be worried? For three reasons:

•    Canada and the EU are in free trade negotiations hoping to conclude the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (Ceta) by 2012 which could open EU markets to dirty tar sands oil and damaging efforts to curb global warming pollution;

•    European Union (EU) decision-makers adopted a Fuel Quality Directive [pdf] in 2009 which mandates suppliers to reduce the carbon emissions from transport fuels 6% below 2010 levels by 2020 – and despite significant lobbying to the contrary – they are considering revising the directive to differentiate between oil types (and tar sands oil would be singled out);

•    The European Commission asked Professor Adam Brandt from Stanford University to study oil sands carbon emissions and his report [pdf], just released, shows that over its lifecycle [pdf] (also referred to as “wells to wheels”), fuel from the tar sands have a 23% greater carbon footprint than most oils used in the EU – and definitively the European Commission will have to defend the Ceta and any watered down Fuel Directive.

Environmental advocates, according to the Guardian, strongly oppose the Ceta especially since the draft agreement has a clause which could permit corporations to sue states which bar them market penetration due to environmental regulations – effectively derailing European efforts to cut global warming pollution. Lawyer Steven Shrybman, who studied the draft agreement concluded:

"If Ceta fails to significantly improve on the norms for such trade agreements, it will only add to the serious impediments that now exist under Nafta [North American Free Trade Agreement] and WTO [World Trade Organisation] agreements to establishing effective measures to combat climate change."

Although Alberta supplies very little oil to the EU, tar sands producers and their political allies are on edge fearing that their image will be further tarnished if Alberta crude is formally labeled a carbon-intensive fuel source. Danielle Droitsch from the Pembina Institute writes:

“The truth is, Canadian and Albertan officials are fighting tooth and nail to prevent oilsands being officially classified as a high-carbon fuel anywhere — the reason being that if a major body such as the European Union does so, it'll be much harder for Canadian officials to continue claiming the oilsands are an environmentally responsible source of oil.”

According to The Tyee, since countries such as China and India have copied EU emissions standards, referring to tar sands oil as a heavy global warming polluter could harm the market growth for this dirty product. That is also the thinking of Albertan Energy Minister Ron Liepert who was dispatched two weeks ago to London and Brussels in order to lobby on behalf of the oil sands:

“The European Union is not currently a major market for Alberta’s oil sands products, but any legislation or tariffs adopted by the union’s government can serve as a model for individual nations around the world.”

With the facts in hand, once again, it is safe to say that Minister Liepert is right: “There is a spin campaign by government and industry and then there's the truth.”

If you are interested in learning more, read The Tar Sands Long Shadow: Canada’s Campaign to Kill Climate Policies Outside Our Borders.

January 17 2011

21:58

Why We Need to Stop Calling Tar Sands Oil "Ethical Oil"

There are few terms in the Canadian vernacular that irk me more than "ethical oil".  Since Ezra Levant's 2010 book "Ethical Oil" hit the scene, it's become the favourite language for government newspeak, and the media.  Worst of all, its given tar sands proponents and the Conservative Government fodder for their debunked argument that tarsands oil is good for us

Levant's book looks at the ethical cost of our addiction to oil, and argues that Alberta tar sands oil is more ethically responsible than oil imported from despotic regimes in the Sudan, Russia, and Mexico, where human rights issues are of concern. 

Though neither Harper nor our new Minister of Environmental Destruction have read the book, the term was exactly what the Conservatives needed to bolster the much-maligned tar sands.  Prior to the echochamber that ensued after the publication of Levant's book,  tar sands oil was often characterized as "dirty" and "controversial" - much to the ire of the government.

 Levant may well have learned the at of spin early in his career while spending the summer in an internship arranged by the libertarian and clean energy/climate change enemy Charles G. Koch Foundation, or through his work with the Fraser Institute.  Levant himself coined the term "ethical oil" in 2009 after being involved in a panel on tar sands oil.  The spin doctor finished the 90-minute debate having not managed to convince his audience of the merits of the toxic oil.  Without admitting defeat, Levant quickly realized that he was going to have to find a different way to sell the dirty oil apart from economic arguments which just weren't resonating with people. 

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Levant calls his term a "debate changer". I would go further, and call it a debate stopper.  Deploying the terminology of ethics in this controversial environmental issue evokes an emotional response in people.  It makes people forget about the environmental impacts and devastation it has caused and makes people focus on despotic regimes in other countries.  Psychologically, people forget the environmental problem when this type of argument is used.  That is why it is so dangerous.

Sure, Canadians love to be considered ethical - historically we have been peacemakers, peacekeepers, and are generally well-perceived in the world.  The stain on our reputation recently has consistently been due to the controversy over Alberta's tar sands.  In reframing the debate in 'ethical' terms, Levant has enabled our government to shirk the environmental embarrassment at Copenhagen and Cancun, and enabled them to evade responsibility to take measures to halt climate change and invest in a clean energy future.  The term is certainly effective for that reason.  And that is exactly why we must stop calling tar sands oil "ethical oil". 

Tar sands oil is not ethical.  The acid content of tar sands oil is 15 to 20 times higher than typical oil products, and contains 5 to 10 times as much sulphur.  In Northern Communities and First Nations communities, residents have begun to see the health impacts of tar sands oil, and are witnessing that the tar sands are having an irreversible impact on indigenous culture

You can no more argue the tar sands are ethical to First Nations communities than you can to the people of Michigan, ravaged by the Michigan Kalamazoo spill.  The 400,000 watershed residents across 19 cities, 11 villages and 107 townships are still dealing with the after-effects of the spill. It's estimated that roughly 1 million litres of oil have yet to be cleaned up from the environment. 

Perhaps we "don't kill gays" or "stone women to death" as Levant emotionally argues.  So we're not buying (as much) oil from Saudi Arabia or Iraq where there are human rights abuses.  That's beside the point.  Gitz Crazyboy, a member of the Blackfoot/Dene First Nation vehemently disagrees that tar sands oil is ethical.  According to him, the environmental impacts of dirty oil are damaging his people's health, and are causing increased cancer incidences and even death. 

Calling the oil "ethical" is damaging to the debate because it shuts off debate.  It creates a space where those who argue against tar sands oil are unethical, or hate freedom and democracy.  Reframing the debate in this way fails to get at the true crux of the problem: we have a dirty oil addiction, and the oil industry is inadequately regulated to the detriment of people's health.  Alberta's "Ethical oil" fails to get us out of this paradigm.  It's still oil at the end of the day, and dirty oil at that. 

Ezra, I think it's time we dropped the "ethical oil" language. For everyone's sake.

January 13 2011

07:17

State Department Refuses to Release Information on Tar Sands Oil Pipeline

The U.S. State Department notified a coalition of environmental groups last week that it has denied their Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for correspondence between the agency and a former presidential campaign staffer of Hillary Clinton’s, who, in his new role as oil industry lobbyist, is seeking Secretary of State Clinton’s approval for a tar sands oil pipeline.

The coalition, including Friends of the Earth, the Center for International Environmental Law, and Corporate Ethics International submitted a FOIA request in December targeted at Paul Elliott, now a lead lobbyist for TransCanada, the company aiming to build the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline that would bring 900,000 barrels a day of dirty tar sands over 2,000 miles through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, and a further 1,661 miles to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

Paul Elliot  served as national deputy director and chief of staff for delegate selection for Clinton's Presidential campaign committee.  As we previously reported, these groups are concerned about how the relationship between Clinton and Elliot may impact the approval process for the pipeline project.  In additionally, they're concerned that the State Department will not fulfill its obligations of conducting an exhaustive and transparent review of the environmental and public health dangers of the proposed pipeline.<!--break-->

In a related development, Environment and Energy Daily reported today that Elliott only registered with the U.S. Congress as a lobbyist for TransCanada on December 16, 2010 -- just three days after the groups publicly announced they had filed the FOIA request. According to Elliott’s registration form, he has been lobbying without disclosing his activities for more than a year.

The State Department denied the FOIA request on the grounds that the groups had not "reasonably described the records you seek in a way that someone familiar with Department records and programs could locate them" and cited the groups’ request for a waiver on the fees associated with the processing of the FOIA.

Marcie Keever, legal director for Friends of the Earth argued that the State Department did not have legitimate legal grounds to deny the FOIA request, and asserted:

"that the agency is ignoring its own written guidance regarding FOIA requests and the release of public information. This is the type of delay tactic we would have expected from the Bush administration, not the Obama administration, which has touted its efforts to usher in a new era of transparency in government, including elevated standards in dealing with lobbyists.”

Friends of the Earth is continuing its efforts to obtain the records from the State Department despite the initial denial.

Read on to learn about about the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

Image Credit: ForestEthics

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