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February 14 2014

00:43

Refuting the 9 Reasons Why the Keystone XL will be Approved

Despite all of the efforts being made to resist the construction of the Keystone XL, it will likely gain the approval of U.S. President Barack Obama. Supporting evidence for the notion that we will move ahead with the Keystone XL comes from the corporate sector. Powerful corporate interests have considerable resources that often enable them to ascertain the outcome of political decisions well ahead of the general public. Berkshire Hathaway has made a move that indicates that they believe the pipeline will be approved. Berkshire controls BNSF which is comprised of nearly 400 different railroad lines that merged or were acquired. Despite its rail holdings, since the end of 2013, Berkshire has been greedily buying shares of Phillips 66 Pipeline Flow Improver in a stock deal valued at about $1.4 billion.

Will the Keystone XL pipeline be approved? If so, it's for all the wrong reasonsThe logic to move forward will be based primarily on nine major points:

First is the way the question was framed in the State Department’s most recent report. When faced with the choice between pipe and rail, the former is the better option from a total carbon emission point of view. Rail takes far more energy to move oil compared to a pipeline. Oil moved by rail increases greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 27.8 – 39 percent and if the oil is transported to the Gulf of Mexico, GHG emissions would rise to about 41.2 percent. What this assessment does not factor is the issue associated with the increasing exploitation of tar sands oil, which has a far worse emissions profile than conventional crude.

The second issue concerns safety and when presented with the false dichotomy between pipe and rail, the former is once again the better option. As explained by the Manhattan Institute, pipe is the safest way to move oil. While pipe is superior from an environmental safety point of view, this is another false choice, as moving oil by any means is not safe.

Third is the economic argument, moving oil through a pipeline is more cost effective than rail. The State Department has indicated that there will be as many as 42,100 (direct, indirect and induced) jobs from the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. However, a number of independent analysis, including one from Cornell University, have refuted this number. The President himself has rebuffed the economic and jobs benefits of the Keystone XL and he stated that very few permanent jobs would be created. Some have even suggested that the pipeline will have a harmful economic impact due to increased fuel costs. In the final analysis, the costs of climate change will utterly eclipse any short term economic gain.

The fourth rational has to do with political considerations. The Keystone has been a fund raising bonanza for pro-oil Republicans and some Democrats, so this issue is at the forefront of their midterm campaign strategies. As we head into the 2014 midterms, denying the Keystone would be political suicide for many Democrats up for reelection. Despite the President’s go it alone strategy, there is only so much he can do with Executive Orders. He cannot afford to lose control of the Senate or lose ground in the House. However, there are times when a President must lead rather than succumb to the the short-sighted math of political equations.

A fifth reason is President Obama’s “all of the above” energy strategy which he reiterated in his most recent State of the Union address. The President has repeatedly stated that he seeks energy independence and the Keystone XL may be construed as a means of achieving this objective. Climate activists would prefer that he abandoned his all of the above strategy and adopt a “best of the above” approach.

The sixth reason is the demand for oil and heavy bituminous oil in particular. Heavy bituminous oil is critical for operations at U.S. refineries because light crude does not have the carbon content to make anything other than diesel and gasoline. Bituminous oil is used to make a far larger number of products. Currently, heavy oil is being shipped to the U.S. from Venezuela, but those reserves are expected to be depleted in the next five years. What this argument does not factor is that tar sands oil is far more environmentally destructive and demand needs to be curtailed rather than expanded.

A seventh reason arises from the claims that suggest if this oil is not used by the U.S. it will be shipped to China. The fact is that this is not accurate. The Canadian government has not been able to gain approval for the Northern Gateway pipeline which would ferry the bitumen to the west coast for transport to China. Further, the U.S. should not be phased by investment groups invovled in Alberta’s tar sands as they are driven by profits that will be generated from shipping the oil to the U.S, not moving tar sands oil to China.

An eighth reason involves the fact that because oil is already being moved by pipelines across the country, one more will not make a difference, even if it traverses the Ogallala aquifer. Proponents of the Keystone point to the pipelines, gas stations and chemical plants that are already on top of the aquifer. What this assessment ignores is the vast number of massive oil spills that have occurred and the fact that pipelines inevitably spill oil. A pipeline as large and as dangerous as the Keystone XL represents an unacceptable level of risk. At a time when we should be scaling back fossil fuel pipelines, we should not build another simply because this is what we have done in the past.

A ninth factor and perhaps the most salient issue involves the fact that shutting down the Keystone XL would be a blow to the fossil fuel industry, the most powerful and lucrative industry on earth. The fact remains that we cannot be held hostage to an industry that threatens to destroy our civilization. If we are not be able to curb our consumption of petrochemicals, we will not be able to reduce our GHGs. The result will be runaway climate change. Simply put, we cannot afford to ramp up oil production, particularly oil as destructive as that which comes from the tar sands.

As Bill McKibben pointed out early last year,

“Physics…takes the carbon dioxide we produce and translates it into heat, which means into melting ice and rising oceans and gathering storms. And unlike other problems, the less you do, the worse it gets.  Do nothing and you soon have a nightmare on your hands. With climate change, unless we act fairly soon in response to the timetable set by physics, there’s not much reason to act at all.”

McKibben concludes by saying that we cannot afford to wait for President to reign in the fossil fuel industry, “we’re not waiting for him. We can’t.”

While it may be tragically unfortunate, the Keystone will likely win the approval of the President, albeit for all the wrong reasons. Those who understand the environmentally perilous course of expanding Alberta’s tar sands know that the Keystone XL pipeline fails the President’s own climate test, which he outlined in his speech at Georgetown last year.

The large body of climate science clearly tells us that we cannot continue to burn fossil fuels, particularly not oil as destructive as that which comes from the tar sands. It would be far better to shut down the Keystone XL and allow the combination of government regulations and market forces to wean America off of fossil fuels. This could in turn drive massive investment in renewable energy which is both clean and abundant.
——————-
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: Shannon Ramos, courtesy flickr

The post Refuting the 9 Reasons Why the Keystone XL will be Approved appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

August 25 2012

11:00

Keystone XL Pipeline To Take Center Stage At Republican National Convention

Over the next few days, Republican lawmakers, Party officials, delegates, and supporters will gather in Tampa, Florida for the Republican National Convention. During their weeklong convention, we can expect to hear a lot of debunked talking points, particularly about the need to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline.

For more than a year, Republican lawmakers in the U.S. have been pushing for approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline, while completely ignoring the environmental risks that would come along with the plan to pipe dangerous DilBit from the Alberta tar sands south to the Gulf Coast.

In addition to ignoring the risks, Republicans have vastly overstated the alleged “benefits” of the pipeline, which they claim would create thousands of jobs, lower energy prices, and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. That last claim is ironic, as the pipeline would carry foreign fuel from Canada, already the largest exporter of fuel to the U.S. Americans certainly love Canada as a neighbor, but it's still technically a foreign country and its ultimate goal is to reach foreign markets in Asia and elsewhere, not the United States.

Bold Nebraska has compiled a list of the possible topic areas to be discusses regarding the pipeline, as well as the truth about the consequences of the pipeline. Here are some of the talking points they are expecting, as well as the fact-based counter arguments:

Many Republicans and Keystone XL pipeline supporters like to say that the Keystone XL pipeline will lower gas prices. The following sorts of statements may be thrown around at the Republican convention, even though pipeline supporters have been quieter on the subject since gas prices have been lower all summer and have only started to rise again because of a recent pipeline spill in Wisconsin and refinery fire in California.

Reports have shown that not only will the Keystone XL pipeline do nothing to ease the price of gas, but it could actually raise the cost for consumers in parts of the country. The reasons for that being Keystone XL is likely to both decrease the amount of gasoline produced in U.S. refineries for domestic markets and increase the cost of producing it, according to a report from NRDC, Oil Change International and Forest Ethics Advocacy.

U.S. Senator Richard Lugar from Indiana has said that Keystone XL will result in “hundreds of thousands” of new jobs, created indirectly by the Keystone XL pipeline project. Senator Lugar’s “estimate is based in part on Perryman’s 2010 study for TransCanada, according to the senator’s spokesman, Andy Fisher.”

An independent analysis by Cornell University’s Global Labor Institute finds that these claims are completely false. Most jobs that are created by Keystone XL, according to the Cornell study, will be “temporary and non-local.” The Cornell report concludes that the pipeline “will not be a major source of US jobs, nor will it play any substantial role at all in putting Americans back to work.”

Republicans claim to be have the utmost concern and concerned about landowner rights, so much so that the issue was included in the GOP party platform of 2008 following the Supreme Court’s Kelo v. City of New London decision with which they disagreed…

In the GOP’s rabid support for construction of the Keystone XL tarsands pipeline, some members seem to have disregarded their fundamental support for property rights and opposition to eminent domain—a position that they made clear following the Supreme Court’s decision in.
Among others, Senators Cornyn (R-TX), Crapo (R-ID), Inhofe (R-OK), Isakson (R-GA), Hatch (R-UT), and Rubio (R-FL) all publically opposed the Kelo decision and now publically support the Keystone XL pipeline—despite the fact that eminent domain would be used to claim private property in seven states.
 

Keep in mind that the discussion of the Keystone XL Pipeline will be taking place in a city located on the Gulf of Mexico, an area still reeling from the effects of the 2010 BP oil geyser. To make things worse, TransCanada recently won a permit for the first leg of their pipeline that would cross several waterways in and around Galveston, Texas that feed directly into the Gulf of Mexico. TransCanada has already begun that construction.

Reports over the last year have shown that the pipeline will feature dangerously inadequate supervision, and that small leaks are almost impossible to detect. (A small leak can still cause massive oil spills and contaminate water supplies.) The Gulf of Mexico cannot afford another oil disaster.

The 2008 RNC convention brought us “Drill Baby Drill,” and it looks like that battle cry will reverberate through the state of Florida again this week.

Do Republicans understand the irony of advocating for foreign interests - Canada's - on a project that will raise prices for Americans, inevitably spill and contaminate our lands and waterways, and further threaten the global climate?

August 24 2012

22:41

Voices Against Tar Sands: South Dakota Rancher Resists Eminent Domain Threat from TransCanada


South Dakota rancher John Harter speaks out against the Tar Sands Keystone pipeline and their threat to seize land under eminent domain. One of a series of videos from NRDCFlix and the Natural Resource Council’s Voices Against Tar Sands initiative.

August 13 2012

17:04

What To Expect When You’re Electing: Representative Paul Ryan

With the selection of Wisconsin Republican Representative Paul Ryan has his running mate, Mitt Romney has effectively pushed his campaign into the climate change denying fringe. While Romney hasn’t been considered a friend of the environment since he began running for national office, his tendency towards flip-flopping made some of his more extreme, anti-environment positions rather toothless. But Paul Ryan is someone that isn’t just all talk, and what he’s saying will be a disaster for our environment.

While Ryan isn’t necessarily a complete climate science denier, he is certainly classified as a “skeptic,” and oftentimes has used anecdotal evidence to say that we’re making too much of a fuss over something that may or may not be happening.

Let’s start by following the money on Rep. Paul Ryan. Since 1989, he has received $65,500 from Koch Industries, making them his sixth largest campaign donor. In total, he has pulled in a little over $244,000 from the oil and gas industries.

Those finances are clearly represented in his voting history in Congress. Here are a few of Ryan’s most anti-environment, pro-industry votes since being elected:

2000 – Voted against implementing Kyoto Protocol
2001 – Voted against raising fuel economy standards
2001 – Voted against barring oil drilling in ANWR
2003 – Voted to speed up “forest thinning” projects
2005 – Voted to deauthorize “critical habitats” for endangered species
2005 – Voted to speed up oil refinery permitting
2008 – Voted against environmental education grants
2008 – Voted against tax incentives for renewable energy
2008 – Voted against tax incentives for energy conservation
2009 – Voted against enforcing CO2 limits for air pollution
2011 – Voted NO on allowing EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions
2011 – Voted YES to opening up the Outer Continental Shelf for oil drilling
2011 – Voted to eliminate climate advisors for the president
2011 – Voted in favor of allowing Keystone XL Pipeline


Ryan’s proposals and voting history are clearly being dictated by the Koch brothers, and the money that their companies continue to throw behind Ryan’s campaigns. But his actions in Congress are almost docile when compared to his activities outside of Washington, D.C.

From Think Progress:
  

In a December 2009 op-ed during international climate talks, Ryan made reference to the hacked University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit emails. He accused climatologists of a “perversion of the scientific method, where data were manipulated to support a predetermined conclusion,” in order to “intentionally mislead the public on the issue of climate change.” Because of spurious claims of conspiracy like these, several governmental and academic inquiries were launched, all of which found the accusations to be without merit. [Paul Ryan, 12/11/09]

In the same anti-science, anti-scientist December 2009 op-ed, Ryan argued, “Unilateral economic restraint in the name of fighting global warming has been a tough sell in our communities, where much of the state is buried under snow.” Ryan’s line is especially disingenuous because he hasn’t been trying to sell climate action, he’s been spreading disinformation. [Paul Ryan, 12/11/09]
 

But the story of Paul Ryan goes much, much deeper than this. It turns out that Ryan is a huge fracking supporter, and isn’t just to benefit his benefactors. Ryan actually has a financial stake in companies that are currently pillaging the state of Wisconsin. From Badger Democracy:
  

Ryan’s 2011 SEI shows his most significant interests are in four companies, all owned by his father-in-law, Dan Little (according to Oklahoma Secretary of State corporate registration). Little is a prominent oil industry attorney (who refused comment to Badger Democracy). The total value of these interests are $350K – $800K, with annual profit of $40K – $130K:

Ava O Limited Mining Co (8% interest) – valued at $100K – $250K; paying out $15K – $50K in profit.

Blondie & Brownie, LLC (10% interest) – valued at $100K – $250K; paying out $5K – $15K in profit.

Little Land Co., LLC – valued at $50K – $100K; paying out $5K – $15K in profit.

Red River Pine Timber (7% interest) – valued at $50K – $100K; no reported profit or interest.

Also owned by Ryan are Mineral Rights in Oklahoma valued at $50K – $100K; and returning $15K – 50K in profit last year.

An examination of Ryan’s 2000 SEI and 2007 SEI show a large increase in the value of these investments. This increase corresponds directly with Ryan’s growing power over the Federal Budget process.
 

No matter how you look at it, Paul Ryan is an environmental disaster. His personal and professional wealth both hinge upon investments in the dirty energy industry, and his track record as a U.S. Representative shows how this will affect his policy decisions.

July 30 2012

14:09

On Our Radar: A Blackout in India

The power loss underscores the difficulties India faces in meeting the energy needs of its expanding economy.

July 27 2012

21:21

Latest Pro-Keystone XL Website Backed by GOP Special Interest Group

This morning, the latest in pro-tar sands spin went live. KeystoneXLNow.com takes aim at President Obama for failing to approve the Keystone XL project (even though the White House just announced approval of the southern leg today), calling it "an affront to millions of Americans out of work and an outrage to millions more who are paying higher energy costs as a result of this administration's policies."

KeystoneXLNow.com invites users to send a message directly to the State Department to counterbalance "the crazy lefties [who] are already pouring in comments to give Obama an excuse to kill the pipeline." The site calls on users to "push back by filling the official State Department docket with comments demanding they stop stalling and approve the Keystone XL pipeline now!"

Not only is KeystoneXLnow.com rife with faulty facts, but its backers and secret funders make an oil trail back to the GOP and oil-backed right wing think tanks. 

KeystoneXLnow.com argues the U.S. State Department should expedite the review process of the Keystone XL because it could take years, and, worst case scenario, Canada will simply give up and build the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline to ship tar sands crude to Asia.

Failing to approve this tar sands pipeline project now will threaten "about 20,000 immediate jobs, a secure supply of North American oil, billions in private investment, and the global efficiency benefits of connecting a major crude source to the world’s most efficient refining center," the site claims.

Canadian oil giant TransCanada quickly tweeted about the campaign, which claims to have sent 13,000 emails and letters so far. 

A closer look at the website registration for KeystoneXLnow.com reveals the site was registered this morning to Phil Kerpen of the free market group American Commitment.


According to its website, American Commitment is "dedicated to restoring and protecting America’s core commitment to free markets, economic growth, Constitutionally-limited government, property rights, and individual freedom".

The Washington Post calls American Commitment "the latest GOP player", and notes the new group has already raised $7 million to attack Democrats, mostly at the state level. Apparently they aren't only focused on state-level battles. 

In addition to his role as the president of American Commitment, Phil Kerpen is a columnist on Fox News Opinion, chairman of the Internet Freedom Coalition, and author of the book Democracy Denied, part of the Heartland Institute's Author Series.

Kerpen previously worked for the Club for Growth, a Club offshoot called the Free Enterprise Fund and the libertarian Cato Institute.

Kerpen also spent the last five years working at Americans for Prosperity, co-founded by David Koch. Kerpen will not confirm whether the Kochtopus is bankrolling his latest front group.

As for the job creation claims that KeystoneXLnow.com touts, even TransCanada acknowledges that the claim that the project will create 20,000 immediate jobs is false.

TransCanada itself claims the project will create 13,000 direct construction jobs, a number from a report TransCanada commissioned from the Perryman Group. The Perryman Group, however, has refused to release important data behind its estimate, and there are deep flaws in their research methodology. In reality, TransCanada is counting "job years" in its job-creation estimates. In other words, TransCanada believes the project will produce 6,500 jobs that last for two years only.

Six thousand five hundred jobs is a far cry from the 20,000 KeystoneXLnow.com claims are at stake, but according to an independent assessment by Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, even the 6,500-job estimate is exaggerated. According to their analysis, the project would produce between 2,500 and 4,650 construction jobs — and could even end up costing the country jobs.

KeystoneXLNow.com also claims that KXL will provide "a secure supply of North American oil", and blames the Obama Administration's policies can for high energy prices. But according to TransCanada, KXL will increase the price of heavy crude oil in the Midwest by almost $2 to $4 billion annually, and those prices could further escalate over several years. This is because tar sands crude that now supplies Midwest refineries will be diverted so it can be sold at higher prices to the Gulf Coast and other export markets.

Consumers in the Midwest could pay 10 to 20 cents more per gallon for gasoline and diesel — adding $5 billion to annual US fuel costs.

In case there was a shadow of a doubt, KeystoneXLnow.com is little more than a secretly funded special interest group backing GOP candidates, using misinformation that is delaying our transition to a clean energy future. 

19:54

Keystone Pipeline Advances

The Army Corps of Engineers granted the final permits for a 400-mile portion that will run from oil depots in Oklahoma to refineries on the Texas coast.

March 17 2012

17:35

January 04 2012

15:16

The Year in Review: Popular Efforts to Combat Climate Change in 2011


Popular efforts to fight global warming increased in 2011Last year saw a significant increase in popular efforts to combat climate change. From protests against the Keystone XL pipeline to campaigns that pressure businesses to engage more sustainable practices, people are standing up in support of efforts to combat climate change. Last year, we also saw an unprecedented number of people getting involved with environmental events, protests and social activism. Although the Occupy Movement may have lacked a clear environmental focus, it did underscore the growing popularity of grassroots protests.

Keystone XL Pipeline

According to the Guardian, the Keystone XL pipeline protests that took place from August 20th to September 3rd were, “the largest act of civil disobedience for the climate in US history.”  Thousands of people, including 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben and NASA’s Dr. James Hansen protested at the White House, demanding that President Obama reject the tar-sands oil pipeline.

On Monday August 28th, more than 60 religious leaders made their voices heard in front of the White House. Nine recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama, also joined the protest against the Keystone XL.

Weeks of protest and the arrests of 1,252 peaceful protesters did not deter people from opposing the pipeline in Washington. McKibben reportedly said the pipeline galvanized U.S. action on climate change.

On Sunday, November 6th, another protest was held to stop the tar-sands pipeline. As many as 15,000 Americans encircled the White House to tell President Obama to reject the Keystone XL project. This was described as a historic defining moment in the push to move beyond oil.

On November 10th, President Obama announced that he would put the future of the planet ahead of Big Oil. Citing climate change, Obama sent the Keystone XL pipeline project back for review until at least 2013.

Even though Republicans are resorting to blackmail to get the Keystone XL pipeline back on track, the success of the anti-pipeline protests represent an important victory for those involved in the struggle against climate change.

Arab Spring

Corruption and misuse of natural resources were some of the factors that fueled the uprisings in Arab states. The Arab world is facing numerous environmental problems including air pollution, water scarcity, desertification, waste management, loss of arable lands and marine degradation. Popular movements in the Arab world succeeded in changing the political landscape in the Middle East and North Africa in 2011. There are early indications that the environment could benefit from the Arab Spring.

The Arab Spring has attracted a $550 billion investment that promises to bring sustainable energy to the region. The world’s most ambitious solar project could start producing energy as early as 2015 in the region.

Paul van Son, the managing director of the Desertec Industrial Initiative (DII), told Reuters that interest in the project to turn sunshine into energy has grown with the spread of democracy across North Africa and the Middle East.

Before the Arab Spring, there were concerns about the political stability in the region. “We like the Arab Spring because it has opened up a lot of ideas and generated support for the project,” van Son said. “We’re very supportive. The democratic structures fit very well with ours.”

Renewable energy projects could help the economy and create jobs in the country and throughout the region. van Son said he hopes Desertec can help bring Mediterranean nations closer together. “I believe large infrastructure projects like this can contribute to stability. It’s about the development of new industries in the region, investment, job creation and the transfer of knowledge and know-how,” he said.

The first 150 megawatts power plant will be built in Morocco and it could be generating power by 2015 or 2016, with further projects planned in Tunisia and Algeria.

COP 17 

On Saturday December 3rd, 2011 in what was called the “Global Day of Action,” about 20,000 people from all over the world took to the streets calling for action in Durban. Protests, marches and rallies around the world demanded “climate justice.”

“We march today to show our outrage. We want to give the ministers…a clear message: You cannot continue to make excuses,” said Action Aid international climate justice coordinator Harjeet Singh.

“We demand urgent and strong action on climate change. We can’t just keep talking and keep wasting time,” Singh said. And Greenpeace said, “it is time to listen to the voices of ordinary people not polluters.”

Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, told the protesters in Durban: “You know where we stand, here with you.”

Although expectations for COP 17 were low, people came together and helped to force governments to sign-on to a binding agreement.

Local Protest Goes National

Michigan State University (MSU) students have been protesting the fact that they have the largest on-campus coal plant in the nation.

“Coal is harmful to our environment and us, but not everyone knows. I think it is important to raise awareness of the problem so it can be fixed and the damaging effects of coal can be stopped,” said student activist Kendra Majewski.

Even though three students were arrested at a sit-in, MSU activists have indicated that they are going to keep demanding clean air for their campus. In October, hundreds of campuses across the nation joined in on the demonstration against the university to show support for the Quit Coal campaign known as 100 Actions for 100% Clean Energy.

Students across the country are now engaged in telephone protests directed at the MSU president’s office. They are requesting that the president reconsider her position and commit to using 100 percent clean energy at Michigan State. This campaign illustrates that local issues can quickly gain national support.

Although MSU has not yet agreed to close its coal plant, the university has taken other steps to become more sustainable, including plans to have all new buildings become LEED-certified.

Environmental Events

There have been a number of environmental events in 2011, which were supported by an ever growing number of people. Global Green’s I Am Fighting Climate Change video contest asked people to document their individual actions to fight climate change. Global Green asked people to come together to help stop climate change and demand that leaders invest in green technologies and green jobs.

The League of American Bicyclists sponsored an event in the US and Canada that promoted the bicycle as an option for commuting to work. In 2011, Bike to Work Week was held on May 16th through the 20th. On June 5th the annual World Environment Day (WED) event became the largest and most widely celebrated WED event ever.

On June 15th, Global Wind Day raised worldwide awareness about wind energy. Thousands of public events were held in the US and around the world.  On Saturday June 18th, Canada, the US and the UK (November 19th in Australia) celebrated SolarDay. The 2011 SolarDay events were held by cities, non-profits, companies and the solar industry.

On August 15th through the 19th, the EDF led a campaign titled Voices for Clean Air to help remind political leaders that clean air is something that the majority of Americans support. The EDF sent a message to political leaders in the U.S. in support of strong clean air standards.

Beginning on September 13th, the Climate Reality Project hosted a live streaming event. The event was known as 24 Hours of Reality, it involved a global broadcast about the reality of the climate crisis. This global event was designed to help people make the connection between extreme weather, climate change, and the need to push the planet beyond fossil fuels. ZeDay was an event that took place on September 21st, it was a day for people all over the planet to strive for zero emissions and encourage the use of renewable energy.

On September 24th Bill McKibben and the 350.org team launched the “Moving Planet” campaign. It inspired over 2000 events in more than 175 countries. In South Asia, the 350.org coordinator indicated that their goal was to encourage grassroots activism against coal fired power emissions, as well as redefining development. African initiatives urged people to take to the streets to demand climate jobs. All regions including, the Pacific and Europe, pushed for renewable energy laws and sustainable transportation.

On October 26th, college campuses across North America celebrated the 9th annual Campus Sustainability Day (CSD), a day which highlighted the green accomplishments and initiatives of staff, faculty and students.

On March 26th, 134 countries and turned out their lights for WWF’s Earth Hour. In 2011, Earth Hour called on businesses and other organizations to show leadership by committing to lasting action for the planet beyond shutting off their lights for one hour. Climate Care Day is an event that takes place on the same day as Earth Hour; however this initiative is intended to encourage global businesses to replace all corporate travel with remote meetings.

On Earth Day (April 23rd), the Billion Acts of Green® campaign became the largest environmental service campaign in the world. In 2011, it included an increasing number of commitments from businesses to measurably reduce carbon emissions and support sustainability.

On Monday, April 18th, thousands of people came together for a rally outside the US Chamber of Commerce in Washington DC. The rally was the culmination of Power Shift 2011, which took place between April 15th and 18th. 350.org launched a campaign entitled “The US Chamber of Commerce Doesn’t Speak For Me,” where more than a thousand businesses abandoned the climate denying Chamber, including corporations like Apple, Nike, Microsoft, Levi-Strauss, Best Buy, and General Electric.

Businesses are Listening

Businesses are increasingly reckoning with the power of popular pressure. Individuals are pushing corporations to cleanup their supply chains, which are causing some businesses to change the way they source commodities. Public pressure has forced companies like Nestle, Unilever, Nestle, Kraft, Burger King, and General Mills to adopt more sustainable business practices.

In 2011, it became increasingly obvious that the risks associated with unsustainable business practices are a serious threat which cannot be ignored. Rather than incur such risks, an increasing number of businesses are cooperating with environmental groups. For example, Xerox has partnered with The Nature Conservancy to promote sustainable forestry, preserve biodiversity and help minimize forest loss and degradation that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.

Non-profits are putting their expertise to work guiding businesses on sustainability. Carbon Trust has published a Green Guide for SMEs, the WWF-UK has launched its Green Game-Changers initiative and the EPA’s Green Power Partnership program has yielded impressive results.

People around the world are increasingly united in their demand for action on environmental issues. The events of 2011 demonstrate that the public can influence decision making at the highest level. This is a testament to the power of citizens to effectuate meaningful change.

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Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of THE GREEN MARKET, a leading sustainable business blog and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: Sky News

December 10 2011

00:49

House Republicans Working On Huge Polluter Giveaways

The Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives is playing hardball with President Obama’s proposal to extend a payroll tax cut extension, and now they’ve found a way to use the extension as a means to grant their polluter friends everything on their holiday wish list.

According to Reuters, Republicans in the House added the approval of the recently-killed (albeit temporarily) Keystone XL Pipeline to the payroll tax cut extension bill, granting the project immediate approval if the rider stays connected to the bill. From Reuters, via Raw Story:

House of Representatives will include approval of a Canada-to-Texas oil pipeline in a payroll tax cut bill, House Speaker John Boehner said on Thursday, raising the political stakes on the issue.

The move by House Republicans marked a challenge to President Barack Obama, who has warned he would veto any bill that linked quick approval of TransCanada Corp’s Keystone XL pipeline to extending a tax cut for American workers that is due to expire on December 31.

But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) quickly denounced the House GOP effort, making clear that it will not survive the Senate

The ill-fated measure was sponsored by Republican Lee Terry of Nebraska, who has taken in more than $273,000 from electric utilities and $225,000 from the oil and gas industries over the course of his career, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Terry claims that he did this in order to help create the estimated “20,000 new jobs” that the pipeline would bring to America.

If Terry was so concerned about creating jobs, then he would pressure his fellow Republican House members to back off their attempts to strip the EPA of their ability to regulate air pollution, which would create more than 1.5 million U.S. jobs.

And speaking of enforcing air pollution standards, the Republicans decided to go all out and add that restriction to their new bill, as well. They also included a rider that would prevent the EPA from being able to enforce air pollution standards on boiler emissions. The Republican-controlled House has worked on that breath-defying measure for quite a while.

The likelihood of these provisions clearing the Democrat-controlled Senate are slim to none, but it could still happen - anything is possible in the U.S. Congress in these whacky times. And with the President emphasizing the dire need to pass the tax cut extension, these common sense environmental and public health protections might become a casualty in the ongoing party war taking place in America.

On a related note, don't miss Bill McKibben's piece over at Politico: "The (bogus) number that won't die," all about the sham of the Keystone XL proponents' "20,000 jobs" statistic. Hint: It's a total fabrication.

For some Friday fun, watch Bill McKibben on the Colbert Report last month, when Stephen Colbert mocks the insane jobs figures tossed around by polluter pundits.

December 09 2011

18:24

Fracking Ohio's Utica Shale to "Boost Local Economy"? A "Total" Sham

It is a well-known fact that the unconventional gas industry is involved in an inherently toxic business, particularly through hydraulic fracturing ("fracking"), which the EPA just confirmed has contaminated groundwater in Wyoming. The documentary film "Gasland," DeSmogBlog's report "Fracking the Future: How Unconventional Gas Threatens our Water, Health, and Climate," and numerous other investigations, reports, and scientific studies have echoed the myriad problems with unconventional oil and gas around the globe.

What is less well-known, but arguably equally as important, is who exactly stands to benefit economically from the destruction of our land, air, and water in the gas industry's rush to profit from the fracking bonanza. The U.S oil and gas industry would have us believe that they are principally focused on ushering in American energy independence. But their claims are increasingly suspect as the real motivation of this industry becomes clearer by the day.

A hint: it's not the small "mom and pop," independent gas companies, but multinational oil and gas corporations. Another hint: it's often not even American multinational oil and gas corporations, but rather, foreign-based multinational oil and gas corporations who stand to gain the most.

France's Total S.A. Enters Ohio's Utica Shale, as well as Uganda, South Sudan and Kenya

On December 7, Bloomberg's Businessweek reported that Total S.A. is positioning itself to acquire 25 percent of Chesapeake Energy’s stake in Ohio's Utica Shale, valued at $2.14 Billion

Total S.A., the largest oil and gas producer in France, is a multinational corporation perhaps most notorious for its involvement in Iraq's "Oil-For-Food" scandal. In 2010, Total S.A. was accused of bribing former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's officials to secure oil supplies. 


Total SA also brokered another big deal on December 7, this one in Uganda, a place I recently wrote about on AlterNet in a piece titled, "Did Obama Just Kick Off Another Oil War — This Time in Africa?" It appears the question raised and answered in my article is being confirmed more and more with each passing day.

Explaining the terms of the deal, Reuters wrote, "French oil major Total said it could build a pipeline from South Sudan to Uganda that would continue to Kenya’s coast, potentially solving the fledgling state’s headache about how to export its oil."

These announcements comes on the heels of a December 1 announcement by another foreign corporation, Norway's Statoil, stating that it "would like to add to its acreage position in the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas as it looks to grow its unconventional oil and gas position in North America."

Speaking of corruption, by the way, Ohio is a natural landing spot for Total S.A.

Ohio: Home to Big Gas Money

Common Cause of Ohio, in a recent report titled "Deep Drilling, Deep Pockets," revealed that from 2001 through June 2011, Republican Governor John Kasich received $213,519 in campaign contributions from the gas industry. The Republican Senatorial and House Campaign Committees took another $210,250 from the gas industry during that same time period.

Not to be outdone, on the other side of the aisle, former Democratic Governor of Ohio, Ted Strickland, received $87,450 during that time frame. 

Top donors included the following:

  • Ohio Oil & Gas Producers Fund - $820,285
  • British Petroleum PAC & Employees - $215,438
  • Marathon Oil PAC & Employees - $207,054

Summing things up, Common Cause wrote,

Companies engaged in fracking contributed $2.8 million to state candidates, political committees, and parties in Ohio from 2001 through June 2011, helping the natural gas industry preserve what are some of the nation’s most lenient fracking regulations. Ohio does not require full disclosure of chemicals used in the fracking process, has stripped from local governments the power to regulate fracking, and allows fracking as close as 100 feet to a residence.

All in all, this is a bad deal for the people of Ohio, but a great deal for global multinational oil corporations, a pattern all too familiar in the American political fray.

Any way one slices it, the claim that the gas industry first and foremost is a "good neighbor" who will "benefit the local economies," is a total sham. 

 

November 15 2011

15:25

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

18:46

Bogus Job Numbers Used To Sell Keystone XL Pipeline

As thousands of protestors gather at The White House today to voice opposition to the Keystone XL Pipeline plan, one of the major selling points from the pipeline proponents is revealed as flawed and perhaps completely bogus. According to The Washington Post, the prospect of job creation – the reason so many people in America support the pipeline – isn’t as rosy as TransCanada would have us believe. In fact, their numbers don’t add up at all.

TransCanada threw out a figure of 20,000 jobs (13,000 construction, 7,000 for suppliers) that would be created directly and indirectly through the pipeline construction process. This is the figure that politicians have used to sell the pipeline to their constituents. But as The Washington Post points out, TransCanada chief executive Russ Girling admits the 20,000 figure is far from honest:

Girling said Friday that the 13,000 figure was “one person, one year,” meaning that if the construction jobs lasted two years, the number of people employed in each of the two years would be 6,500. That brings the company’s number closer to the State Department’s; State says the project would create 5,000 to 6,000 construction jobs, a figure that was calculated by its contractor Cardno Entrix.

As for the 7,000 indirect supply chain jobs, the $1.9 billion already spent by TransCanada would reduce the number of jobs that would be created in the future.

A TransCanada statement Sept. 30 said the project would be “stimulating over 14,400 person years of employment” in Oklahoma alone. It cited a study by Ray Perryman, a Texas-based consultant to TransCanada, saying the pipeline would create “250,000 permanent jobs for U.S. workers.”

But Perryman was including a vast number of jobs far removed from the industry. Using that technique in a report on the impact of wind farms, Perryman counted jobs for dancers, choreographers and speech therapists.

So are the meager job numbers worth the environmental devastation? Again, the Post says “no”:

Meanwhile, the Cornell Global Labor Institute issued a study suggesting that any jobs stemming from the pipeline’s construction could be outweighed by environmental damage it caused, along with a possible rise in Midwest gasoline prices because a new pipeline would divert that region’s current oversupply of oil to the Gulf Coast.

Even if TransCanada’s original claim of creating 20,000 jobs were accurate, it wouldn’t be enough justification for approving the Keystone XL pipeline, which has drawn the Obama administration into an ethics scandal, enraged property owners along the proposed route, and garnered bipartisan opposition in places like Nebraska due to its multiple flaws.

Brad Johnson at ThinkProgress has even more debunking of the bogus jobs figures and who is repeating them despite evidence that they are false. 

President Obama must decide whether this pipeline is in America's best interest, and there are signs that he isn't convinced. His White House is due to receive an earful today as Tar Sands Action returns to the front gates where 1,252 were arrested in August. If you want to follow the action on Twitter, look for hashtags #Surround, #tarscandal, #nokxl and follow @tarsandsaction.

October 26 2011

22:27

Lawmakers Seek Inquiry on Keystone XL Process

Members of Congress ask for a formal review of how the State Department assigned an environmental impact study to a company with business ties to TransCanada.

October 18 2011

19:10

For the Keystone Battle, a Folk Hero

Randy Thompson, a plain-spoken rancher, is the public face of a battle against the Keystone XL pipeline in Nebraska.

September 19 2011

22:04

EnergyNOW! Tackles Keystone XL, And Talks To Me About Pipelines

On Sunday, energyNOW! news tackled the Keystone XL debate in a wide-ranging half hour program that covered the controversial pipeline in typically comprehensive fashion.

An overview intro segment looks at the "impact on America," from the alleged reduction of imports of OPEC crude to potential for pollution. Reporter Thalia Assuras' trip to Nebraska to talk to local 'Huskers — landowners and politicians alike — is fascinating.

The show then travels up to Alberta, whose Athabasca tar sands reserves would feed the Keystone XL pipeline, funneling filthy DilBit crude down to Gulf Coast refineries.

The last segment features an exclusive interview with Energy Secretary Steven Chu, which they teased a few weeks back. (And which, you might recall, I responded to at the time, calling his claim that Keystone XL would increase our national "energy security" cynical politics.)

If you're able to spend a half hour learning about this urgent hot-button issue, this show is a great place to start. If you can't see the embedded video below, you can watch on energyNOW's website.

As a supplement to their Keystone XL program, and part of their ongoing Reporter's Notebook series, yours truly sat down and talked to energyNOW! about energy pipelines in general. If you've been reading my ongoing series about energy pipelines, you've likely heard most of this. But you haven't seen me talk about it awkwardly into a webcam!

 

September 13 2011

18:35

Environmental Impact Deemed "Limited" For Potentially Explosive Shale Gas Pipeline Into Lower Manhattan

Last Friday, exactly one year after the massive natural gas pipeline blast that killed eight and leveled a San Bruno, California neighborhood, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) brought the controversial New Jersey-New York gas line one step closer to construction.

The pipeline, as proposed by Spectra Energy, would carry shale gas through a number of New Jersey towns, under the Hudson River, and into the Meatpacking District of Lower Manhattan. On Friday, FERC released a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that gave preliminary approval for construction of the pipeline and all of the related aboveground facilities. The EIS runs over 800 pages long, so I wasn’t able to give it a thorough read (you can find links to all the sections here), but the Executive Summary gave every indication that the line would be approved. FERC found “that construction and operation of the NJ-NY Project would result in limited adverse environmental impacts” and that “[T]hese limited impacts would mostly occur during the period of construction.”

For all the detailed discussion of wetlands and waterways and noise pollution and archaeological sites, there’s one major risk — environmental and public safety — that the report glosses over.

What happens if there’s an explosion? New Jersey-New York City shale gas pipeline map



Granted, it isn’t the role of an EIS to disqualify a pipeline on pure disaster risk potential, but you’d think that it would have to address the environmental impacts associated with the very real potential for explosive accidents. FERC finds just a “slight increase in risk” to residents who live near this 30 inch shale gas pipeline.

The pipeline and aboveground facilities associated with the NJ-NY Project would be designed, constructed, operated, and maintained to meet or exceed the DOT Minimum Federal Safety Standards in Title 49 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 192 and other applicable federal and state regulations. By designing and operating the proposed Project in accordance with the applicable standards, the Project would represent only a slight increase in risk to the nearby public.

The public safety advocates behind NoGasPipeline.org make the case that the proposed NJ-NYC gas line would be roughly the same size and rely on the same pressure as that which caused the deadly San Bruno blast. Of course, that San Bruno line was old — originally installed in 1956, but a recent report by the National Transportation Safety Board blamed lax regulatory oversight and PG&E’s inadequate safety monitoring for the fatal tragedy.

Spectra has already lost local confidence in their safety measures. As reported by Natural Gas Watch in June, federal regulators cited Spectra with “17 inadequacies in its pipeline safety operations and procedures" for things like "continuing pipeline surveillance" and "welding procedures."

The folks at Natural Gas Watch mapped out a rough version of potential impacts if a blast similar to San Bruno were to occur at the pipeline's point of entry into Manhattan.

shale gas blast New Jersey New York shale gas line explosion

The citizens behind NoGasPipelines.org also created a "blast map" on the New Jersey side of things that is actually far more detailed and every bit as jaw-dropping.

Upon receiving the draft EIS, Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy expressed his disappointment in no unclear terms. The report "does not address our primary concerns, which are the safety and security of our residents and the impact on the future development of our city," Healy said in a statement. "Additionally, we feel strongly that there are serious environmental impacts that this would have on our community and our residents, and we remain vehemently opposed to this project."

The public now has 45 days to comment on the draft EIS before the final version is prepared. You can e-file your comments here until October 31st.

September 09 2011

16:50

San Bruno Gas Explosion One Year Anniversary, Lax Oversight is Blamed

One year ago today, at about 6:11 pm, a massive natural gas line explosion ripped apart a residential neighborhood in San Bruno, California. The blast was described as “a thunderous roar heard for miles,” and the geyser of fire that spewed forth killed eight people, injured dozens, destroyed 38 homes, and damaged another 70.

Last week, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which regulates energy and resource pipelines, revealed the findings of their year-long investigation into the causes of that fatal, catastrophic blast.

"Our investigation revealed that for years, PG&E exploited weaknesses in a lax system of oversight," said NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman. "We also identified regulators that placed a blind trust in the companies that they were charged with overseeing to the detriment of public safety."

San Bruno natural gas pipeline explosion-a remnant of the line
Close Up Pictures of Gas Line Explosion Damage (CC) by smi23le on Flickr.

San Bruno natural gas pipeline explosion at night
San Bruno fire at night (CC) by MisterOh on Wikimedia Commons.

The report, which also offers 29 new recommendations to the Department of Transportation, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, and local regulators, includes this eye-opening section on probable cause. (Emphasis mine.)

The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the accident was the Pacific Gas and Electric Company's (PG&E) (1) inadequate quality assurance and quality control in 1956 during its Line 132 relocation project, which allowed the installation of a substandard and poorly welded pipe section with a visible seam weld flaw that, over time grew to a critical size, causing the pipeline to rupture during a pressure increase stemming from poorly planned electrical work at the Milpitas Terminal; and (2) inadequate pipeline integrity management program, which failed to detect and repair or remove the defective pipe section.

Contributing to the accident were the California Public Utility Commission's (CPUC) and the U.S. Department of Transportation's exemptions of existing pipelines from the regulatory requirement for pressure testing, which likely would have detected the installation defects. Also contributing to the accident was the CPUC's failure to detect the inadequacies of PG&E's pipeline integrity management program.

Contributing to the severity of the accident were the lack of either automatic shutoff valves or remote control valves on the line and PG&E's flawed emergency response procedures and delay in isolating the rupture to stop the flow of gas.

It’s worth noting that these regulatory exemptions and examples of lax oversight are precisely the types of government regulation that many Congressional Republicans are now calling an “unnecessary burden on business.” They call them “job killers,” but many would call them “life savers.”

Finally from the You Can’t Make This Stuff Up Department: The day after the NTSB released its findings, blaming PG&E and lax government oversight, another PG&E gas line exploded, destroying a Cupertino, California condo building. The utility’s crews took over an hour and a half to shut off the gas flow after the explosion, and investigators immediately found at least seven leaks in the line.

While there were thankfully no fatalities in this blast, the NTSB will investigate the blast to determine any “commonalities” between it and the San Bruno tragedy.

I’m working on a much broader, more comprehensive report on the safety and hazards of gas pipelines, part of a series covering energy pipelines in North America. Stay tuned for much more.

September 02 2011

21:16

Reality Check: New Keystone XL Report Blows Up Steven Chu's "Energy Security" Claim

Earlier this week, in an interview with EnergyNow!, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu hinted that the administration would likely approve the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. The controversial pipeline, which would carry filthy diluted bitumen (or DilBit) crude 1,700 miles across six Great Plains states, 1,904 waterways, and the nation’s largest freshwater aquifer, needs State Department approval to cross the international border. Opposition to the pipeline is fierce — over the past two weeks over 1,000 activists have been arrested at the White House in a massive act of civil disobedience — as environmentalists, Great Plains landowners, scientists, and public health activists alike warn of the inevitable oil spills and immense carbon pollution that would result from Keystone XL’s construction.
 
Proponents of the pipeline have been pushing the claim that building this pipeline will improve our energy security and reduce our dependence on oil from Venezuela and the Middle East. Companies like TransCanada, the Canadian energy company hoping to build the pipeline, and Valero, the Texas-based refinery company that stands to profit the most from the DilBit crude that it would deliver — have been more than happy to help perpetuate that myth, even if their internal discussions and the economics of the oil industry don’t back it up.  

Unfortunately, Secretary Chu’s interview on Wednesday revealed that the administration is going to use this false claim as political cover if (or, more realistically, when) they approve the construction of Keystone XL. Here’s the interview:




This is terribly cynical politics, as surely Secretary Chu — a Nobel-winning physicist and truly one of the world’s premier energy experts — knows the folly of this “energy security” argument.

A report released earlier this week by Oil Change International highlights just how wrong the claim is. In “Exporting Energy Security: Keystone XL Exposed” (pdf), the authors look at Energy Information Administration data, corporate disclosures from TransCanada and Valero Energy, and oil market analyst reports, and conclude that “the idea that Keystone XL will decrease America’s dependence on foreign oil is demonstrably false.”

The report, which is worth reading in full, draws three stark conclusions:
 
  1. The Keystone XL pipeline is an export pipeline.  The Gulf Coast refiners at the end of the pipeline’s route are focused on expanding  exports, and the nature of the tar sands crude Keystone XL delivers enhances their capacity to do so.
  2. Valero, the top beneficiary of the Keystone XL pipeline, has recently explicitly detailed an export strategy to its investors.  The nation’s top refiner has locked in at least 20 percent of the pipeline’s capacity, and, because its refinery in Port Arthur is within a Foreign Trade Zone, the company will accomplish its export strategy tax free.
  3. The oil market has changed markedly in the last several years, with U.S. demand decreasing, and U.S. production increasing for the first time in 40 years. Higher fuel economy standards and slow economic growth have led to a decline in U.S. gasoline demand, while technological advances have opened up new sources in the U.S. Increasingly, U.S. refiners are turning to export.

Earlier this week, Glenn Hurowitz, senior fellow at the Center for International Policy, made a similar, tangential case. Hurowitz argued, in fact, that “Drilling in North America is the single greatest threat to our nation’s energy security.”

He continues:
Here’s the reality: Protecting the United States’ energy security means keeping our continent’s oil in the ground for when we need it in an emergency. The United States and Canada combined hold less than 5 percent of the world’s proven oil reserves. Thanks in part to expanded domestic drilling during the Obama administration, we’re depleting those reserves at a high rate. That means we have far less oil to fall back on in the event of true emergency, like an oil embargo or a major war when access to foreign oil supplies becomes difficult or even impossible. If we’re really concerned about security, tar-sands oil should be a last-gap, man-the-barricades option — something we as a society hope we never have to use….

It’s important to contrast this depletion reality with the old canard that the oil industry and its backers continue to push: that drilling domestically somehow reduces the flow of money to the Middle East and other unstable oil suppliers. In practice, basic oil-industry economics show the opposite. Because Middle Eastern and Venezuelan oil is so much cheaper to produce and more plentiful than remaining domestic oil reserves, those countries can almost always outcompete domestic U.S. competitors and still maintain their enormous profit margins and high levels of production. Saudi and Iraqi oil, for instance, costs just $4-$6 per barrel to produce with another $2-$3 tacked on for transportation costs (costs are similar for Iranian oil). Production costs for tar-sands oil clock in at a minimum of $30 per barrel; costs for other domestic sources are similar

DeSmogBlog has been all over the Keystone XL story. For some background, check out this post on how the State Department’s Environmental Impact Statement was woefully incomplete, this post on the many problems with tar sands pipelines, and this great infographic on how TransCanada’s Keystone pipelines are “built to spill.” Also, this Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline Action page has links to just about every resource you could ever possibly hope to find.

 

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