Wednesday, March 06, 2013
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
"We can bail out banks, we can bail out member states, but you cannot bail out climate. If we just say we must extract all the fossil fuels that we can find in the world, then it's clear that it will not be possible to stay below the 2 degrees."
~ EU Environment Commissioner Connie Herdegaard
In this issue:
- Keystone XL SEIS sparks outrage
- Former Conservative PM urges Canada to get serious about climate policy
- Tar sands development poisons local residents near Peace River
- EU official urges Obama to veto KXL
- New England continues its crusade to remain Tar Sands Free
The top story this week was the release of the draft Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for the Keystone XL pipeline proposal, which the U.S. State Department made public late on Friday afternoon, a classic case of the “Take Out the Trash” ploy popularized by the TV drama West Wing. A late Friday release tends to decrease media coverage, and the State Department’s PR people knew they were going to get pounded.
The response from the environmental community was unanimous: The Keystone XL SEIS stinks.
“Construction and operation of the proposed Project would result in numerous impacts to the environment,” said the report, but “The proposed Project Construction, Mitigation, and Reclamation Plan … includes procedures that Keystone would follow to reduce the likelihood and severity of, or avoid impacts from the proposed project.”
Even as U.S. President Obama re-committed to “doing everything we can to combat the threat of climate change,” the SEIS concluded that the project’s contribution to the release of additional climate-warming greenhouse gases (GHGs) would be negligible, a finding that sparked outrage across the country.
NRDC President Frances Beinecke called the report a “recklessly insufficient environmental review.”
Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth, said, “It seems like Secretary Kerry and the State Department missed President Obama's State of the Union and inaugural address. The draft SEIS reads like an on-ramp to justify the Keystone XL pipeline project. We cannot solve the climate crisis when the State Department fails to understand the basic climate, environmental and economic impacts of the Keystone XL pipeline.”
Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer, Chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said: "I intend to closely review the draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Keystone XL pipeline. I continue to be very concerned about the contribution that the Keystone XL pipeline would make to dangerous climate change."
Senator Bernie Sanders, and Independent from Vermont, was more direct: “No one who is serious about protecting the future of our planet and reversing global warming could support this pipeline project. Tar sands oil is the dirtiest on Earth, and the Environmental Protection Agency has said clearly that tar sands production releases 82 percent more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional oil…. The president must reject the Keystone XL project.”
The problems arise from the conclusion in the SEIS that the Keystone XL pipeline is “unlikely to have a substantial impact on the rate of development in the oil sands, or on the amount of heavy crude oil refined in the Gulf Coast area.” This convenient supposition is based on the assumption that even if Keystone XL is rejected, Big Oil will find other ways to get tar sands crude to refineries and ports, so it can be exported around the globe.
It’s difficult to know how the State Department came to this conclusion, except that it was based on analysis provided by two consulting firms with ties to oil and pipeline companies that could benefit from the proposed project. According to David Driesen, a law professor at Syracuse University who specializes in economics and environmental law, this conclusion was a judgment call based on projections of the future, and “nobody knows the answer to that question…. A lot of the judgment deals with which facts do you emphasize, and how you gather" the information.
"I think the question of conflict of interest is a legitimate one," Driesen told Inside Climate News. If consulting firms are "used to working for industry clients, it's possible they would subtly orient their analysis in a certain way, and that could be reflected" in the document.
"The marketplace and ethics sometimes collide," said Joel A. Mintz, a law professor at Florida's Nova Southeastern University, who is a member scholar at the Center for Progressive Reform, which favors green policies. "If their livelihood comes from consulting for the oil and gas industry, I think it would be expected they'd be sympathetic to their future and past clients. They'll want to keep consulting."
The EPA, on the other hand, came to a different conclusion. It estimated that Keystone XL would increase annual carbon emissions by up to 27.6 Mt CO2e annually – the equivalent of seven coal-fired power plants operating continuously or having 6.2 million cars on the road for 50 years.
Even the oil industry’s conclusion differs from the State Department’s. A host of oil industry and pipeline experts have concluded during the debate over the future of Keystone XL that this pipeline (and other pipelines) is essential to the continued expansion of Alberta’s tar sands. For tar sands expansion to continue, all the proposed export pipeline capacity and more will need to be built, said Andrew Potter, CIBC World Market’s institutional equity research executive director, less than two months ago. “Even if you build every single pipe that’s on the table right now...you’re still short pipeline capacity.”
Canada’s outspoken Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver recognized the problem, too, emphasizing that Keystone XL and other pipelines have little to do with American energy security and everything to do with exporting Alberta’s dirty bitumen to overseas markets. Americans are “simply not going to need to buy as much from us and so we can't rely as much on the U.S. market. If we don't find new markets, the resources will be left in the ground and the legacy will be lost. So it is crucial."
An analysis by the Pembina Institute reached a similar conclusion. It found that the Keystone XL pipeline will be a key enabler of tar sands growth, and is by far the largest (830,000 barrels of oil per day) and most imminent of pipeline proposals. Filling Keystone XL with tar sands crude would require a 36 per cent increase in tar sands production and would create as much greenhouse gas pollution as putting 4.6 million cars on the road — an increase in emissions that is hardly inconsequential.
There are other problems with the SEIS, too. The review failed to recognize the dangerous nature of tar sands spills, which are difficult to impossible to clean up and put communities and the water they depend on at significant risk. This is exacerbated by TransCanada’s poor operating record. The two pipelines TransCanada constructed in the United States in recent years have been plagued with problems, including the fact the original Keystone pipeline has spilled 14 times and had to be shut down twice due to safety concerns. Another of its pipelines exploded.
Despite the SEIS’s obviously inadequate and “reckless” assessment of the climate impacts of the Keystone XL, it’s important to point out that it’s only a draft version that will undoubtedly be revised. On March 8, a 45-day public comment period will begin when both Canadians and Americans can provide input on the State Department’s unsubstantiated conclusions. The final assessment will help the White House decide whether or not the Keystone XL pipeline is in the national interest of the United States.
And the answer, as NRDC’s Susan Casey-Lefkowitz makes clear, is that “we already know from existing analysis is that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is not in our national interest. The pipeline means worsening climate change. Piping it through the US heartland would put our ranchers and farmers at risk from difficult to clean up oil spills. And sending it to the Gulf Coast only makes our country a dirty oil gateway to overseas markets. This is a project where multi-national oil companies reap in the benefits while US communities take the risks.”
So when March 8 rolls around, make sure to take the time to let the U.S. State Department know that it still has some work to do on its assessment of the environmental impacts and risks the Keystone XL pipeline would force us all to bear if it were constructed.
CLEANING UP DIRTY OIL
Former Conservative Prime Minister Kim Campbell is not fooled by Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver’s claims that Canada’s environmental policy is “unmatched” in its excellence, even going so far as to label Canada’s dirty tar sands oil a “green” source of energy. No, she recognizes Canada’s climate policy for what it is: an international embarrassment.
“The government has not been very forthright in Canada in dealing with the problem of climate change, and the mentality is changing in the United States, particularly when you have disasters like Hurricane Sandy which bring home to people what extreme weather is and what they can expect with the rising of sea levels and the warming of the oceans,” Campbell said in an interview on the Global News program The West Block with Tom Clark.
Campbell’s comments are just the latest backlash against the Harper government’s failed climate policy, which will not allow Canada to achieve its goal to reduce GHG emissions 17 per cent below 2005 levels. Tar sands expansion is the biggest factor in determining whether Canada can live up to the climate commitments our government had made to the world.
This just in: tar sands development in northwest Alberta produces enough toxic pollution to drive residents from their homes. According to Andrew Nikiforuk in The Tyee, air pollution from heavy oil extraction and storage facilities owned by Calgary-based Baytex Energy Corp., a heavy oil producer, has forced as many as six residents from their homes and poisoned scores of other citizens near the Peace River tar sands.
"It's a desperate situation," said Vivianne Laliberte who moved into her son's place last October after being repeatedly "gassed" from emissions from oil sands operations five kilometres from her 85-year-old farm. "There are a lot of sick people but they don't have the money to move," Laliberte told The Tyee.
And apparently it’s been going on for years. “I don't blame the company," she said. "I blame the ERCB (Alberta's energy regulator). They are not doing proper monitoring and are withholding data. They are responsible for this going on for years. They have lied to us more than the company. I don't know how they sleep at night."
The Alberta government claims it is “taking this matter seriously,” but residents, many of whom were recently profiled in a three-part CBC series, say the province has failed to regulate hydrocarbons being vented off of hundreds of bitumen storage tanks in the region.
STOPPING DIRTY PIPELINE EXPANSION
As the debate rages about the sufficiency and accuracy of the State Department’s Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for the Keystone XL pipeline proposal, at least one European Union official has already made up her mind.
“If you had a U.S. administration that would avoid doing something that they could do, with the argument that in the time we are living in and with climate change we are faced with, we should not do everything we can do, then it would be a very, very interesting global signal,” Connie Hedegaard, the European Union commissioner for climate action, told reporters in Washington, D.C. recently.
She said that Europeans and others concerned about addressing climate change were watching closely the pending decision on the Keystone XL pipeline.
U.S. President Obama seems to be on the same page as Hedegaard. He recently said that his new picks for heading up the EPA and the Energy department would make sure the United States is “doing everything we can to combat the threat of climate change.”
It would seem, at least to Hedegaard, that includes rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline.
An unbelievably consensus occurred recently on Vermont Town Meeting Day. While debate still rages about the future of the Keystone XL pipeline, 28 towns and cities in Vermont passed resolutions against using an aging pipeline to transport tar sands crude through Vermont.
"We want to remind the lawmakers and the rule makers that it's the voice of the people that counts," said Andy Simons of 350vt.org, which was instrumental in educating local residents and organizing the petitions. "And this is a way of expressing it, here in Vermont in particular with our system of direct democracy."
In Maine, the residents of Waterford approved a resolution stating their opposition to any proposal by Portland Pipe Line Corp. to transport tar sands crude in its existing pipeline, which flows through the community. The resolution calls for any proposal to transport tar sands oil to trigger a federal environmental review process, an effort recently supported by U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, and Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, in a letter to the Obama administration.
“We feel that such transport is of no benefit to Waterford and entails unacceptable risk to our river, our public health and safety, property values, recreation resources, water quality, and the pristine natural resources upon which our community depends,” the resolution reads.
Waterford is the third community in Maine to pass such a resolution. Casco was first, followed by Bethel. The 236-mile Portland-Montreal pipeline flows through all three communities.
At issue is the Portland-Montreal Pipeline, a 62-year-old pipeline operated by Portland Pipe Line Corp., which is owned by Montreal Pipeline Ltd.. Larry Wilson, the company’s CEO, recently told the Bangor Daily News that the company is exploring it as an option. The pipeline runs through pristine parts of Maine and Vermont, as well as numerous towns.
The non-binding resolutions put the town on record in opposition to transporting tar sands through the state. It also says the town should use fuel vendors who buy oil from refineries that do not use tar sands.
The resolutions were confirmation that New England residents feel that tar sands development is too dangerous for the climate, and transporting the viscous crude through pipelines creates an intolerable risk to the region’s waterways and communities.