Sen. John Hoeven tells Bloomberg news that his sources in Washington say President Obama will reject Keystone XL during the August recess. He won’t identify them, And the White House and State Department had no comment on the matter.

The most interesting part of the article is the response from TransCanada.

“If indeed these rumors are true with what Senator Hoeven has said today, it’s a victory for our opponents,” James Millar, a TransCanada spokesman, said Tuesday by phone. “We would simply be making a choice of saying ‘Yes’ to oil from Iran and Venezuela and ‘No’ to oil from Canada and the U.S. Bakken.”

That’s just some old-fashioned scaremongering. We’re all supposed to wet ourselves over the prospect of getting oil from scary bad people in Iran and Venezuela.

Another way to frame the issue is, we’re saying no to allowing our vital economic and environmental resources to be placed in perpetual risk for the profit of foreign corporations. If you ask me, the very real threat of contaminating the Ogallala Aquifer is far more frightening than phantom fears of Venezuela and Iran.

Another interesting comment comes from a Canadian market analyst.

“The earliest we’ll now see it, we think, is in 2018” under the next U.S. president, said Patrick Kenny, an analyst at National Bank Financial in Calgary. “That’s why Canada and TransCanada have gone with this Plan B.”

“Plan B” involves every other effort to get tar sands oil to the global market. The Energy East pipeline, Enbridge’s Line 61 project in Wisconsin, and the effort to convince First Nations peoples in British Columbia to sacrifice their homes and livelihoods for Big Oil’s profits are ongoing projects.

But what about this “under the next U.S. president” thing? Obviously, a Republican president would be very likely, if not completely dead-on certain, to approve Keystone XL in whatever form it takes after Obama’s rejection (which, you’ll note, we predicted in April). But what gives TransCanada the idea that a Democratic president would be willing to approve it?

Let’s hope Hillary Clinton’s unwillingness to express an opinion on the matter isn’t a clue.

It’s been five years since an Enbridge tar sands pipeline ruptured in the Kalamazoo River, dumping more than a million gallons of diluted bitumen, contaminating the water, the shore, and the riverbed below. More than $1.2 billion  have been spent on the clean-up, which is still not complete.

Inside Climate News, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 2013 for its coverage of the Kalamazoo spill, revisits the people and the communities affected by it. It’s a moving piece, both inspiring and enraging. Well worth the read.

The people of Wisconsin should be reminded often that their Republican-controlled legislature just rammed an Enbridge tar sands pipeline down their throats. Why should Michigan have all the fun?

You may have heard the big news about the Keystone pipeline. Not the Keystone XL, which is yet to go anywhere, but the first Keystone pipeline which opened for business in 2010, and the southern leg of the pipeline from Cushing, Okla., to Port Arthur, Texas.

Big Oil is celebrating Keystone, version 1.2, for transporting its 1-billionth barrel of oil. That’s 1,000,000,000 barrels that successfully made it from the beginning of the pipe to the end without destroying land or water resources. So that’s worthy of a huzzah, I suppose, or at least a relieved sigh while mopping the nervous sweat from one’s brow.

But as they clap one another on the back in self-adulation for purportedly building a pipeline that managed to do what it was built to do, it’s worth asking a somewhat impertinent question: what aren’t they telling us?

What about the fact that the first Keystone pipeline leaked more than a dozen times in its first year of operation?

What about the fact that the southern leg was so poorly manufactured that it had to be shut down for repairs within months of opening its tap for the first time, piling onto a history of construction defects?

So they’re not exactly giving you the whole story in their carefully crafted tale of unbridled success. And as bad as the record on Keystone is, they’re also distracting from a much bigger issue.

Last week, the worst pipeline spill in Canadian history occurred in Alberta. A nearly brand new pipeline near Fort McMurray, the heart of the Canadian tar sands industry, dumped 1.3 million gallons of tar sands emulsion into a muskeg bog before anyone noticed the pipe had a leak.

It’s important to note that this was not an older, neglected pipe like the one that ruptured a couple of months ag0 and contaminated the Santa Barbara coast with 100,000 gallons of oil. This was a state-of-the-art, double-walled pipeline with a “failsafe” leak detection system. The system, it must be noted, didn’t do a thing to raise an alarm; like a shockingly high number of cases, the leak was spotted by a passerby.

No word on whether it is the same “state-of-the-art” leak-detection system as the one TransCanada promises to use in Keystone XL, which the company acknowledged in federal filings is incapable of detecting leaks of less than 1.5 percent capacity. That means KXL could leak 500,000 gallons a day, and the system would never notice it. Pipeline experts assure us that new and cutting-edge technology is no guarantee that a pipeline won’t leak and destroy its surrounding environment.

So while Big Oil wows you with frothy success stories, be wary of the information they’re leaving out.

It’s like watching a magic show. If the magician is doing something spectacular with the left hand, you can be sure the right hand is up to no good.

TransCanada and Big Oil are upping their pipeline game with or without Keystone XL. That was the news out of Alberta last week.

TransCanada is reportedly offering up more pipeline capacity in the original Keystone pipeline, the one that opened in 2010 (and leaked a dozen times in its first year of operation). While the pipes have gotten no bigger, the company says it has exploited new technologies that allow it to add 10,000-15,000 additional barrels a day to the pipeline’s 590,000 daily barrels capacity.

“This is essentially some operating efficiencies that we have been able to find through technological advancements to allow us to contract out more volume,” TransCanada spokesperson Mark Cooper told Reuters news service.

Even with its expanded capacity, the original Keystone can’t match the 830,000 barrel-per-day projected capacity for the Keystone Xl project. And it’s nowhere near Enbridge’s 1.2 million bpd expansion of the Line 61 pipeline, which the Republican-controlled Wisconsin legislature just rammed down the throats of local lawmakers who wanted stricter insurance requirements to protect taxpayers in the event of a spill. (Remember that Enbridge is the company responsible for the $1.2 billion Kalamazoo River spill, the largest pipeline spill in U.S. history.)

Syncrude_mildred_lake_plant

The Canadian tar sands industry is showing no signs of letting up, despite the country’s promise to be a better global citizen on matters of climate change. The Harper government pledged, along with other industrial nations, to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2030. How it can do that while expanding tar sands production and export will require some clever alchemy, since tar sands produce 20 percent more carbon than traditional petroleum in similar uses.

Of course, it’s possible the government doesn’t intend to keep its promise. It already acknowledged that its earlier promise to cut its emissions by 17 percent by 2020 is laughably far from coming to fruition.

Despite promises from the progressive New Democratic Party leadership in Alberta– where the NDP shockingly ousted the Conservative Party from the governing role it held for 43 years in a May election– to revamp environmental standards in the tar fields, they may face a pitched battle against an oil industry that likely viewed the provincial government as a wholly owned subsidiary.

Pipeline expansion in the U.S. and Canada, coming as it does despite the will of popular local leadership, demonstrates how lofty goals and promises of cleaning up our energy act are of dubious reliability. How can we say that we as a society are going to wean ourselves from our destructive addiction to fossil fuels, which we acknowledge is doing irreparable harm that compounds daily, when we continue to invest in the infrastructure that feeds our addiction?

Big Oil is not looking to build and expand pipelines for a short-term project. The $8 billion TransCanada is willing to spend on KXL will not be recouped, with a healthy profit, by 2030. Pipelines are a long-term investment in a dying industry, an investment in maintaining the status quo and wringing every available penny from it.

When pipeline supporerts and cynics mock the anti-KXL movement for acting as though stopping one pipeline will turn the tide on global warming, they miss the point.

Stopping Keystone XL is the first step, not the last. Preventing one new pipeline is preventing 100 years of Big Oil expansion. Winning the KXL fight provides momentum to stop other pipelines, like Line 61, and decommissioning older pipelines that impose a substantial risk of spills to our land and water.

Our leaders can make lofty promises on greenhouse gases, knowing that they won’t have to stand to account when they’re not reached. But we can hold them accountable now, demanding that they lay the foundation to meet those goals by creating the infrastructure for cleaner, greener energy, rather than continued investment in poisonous technology.

Yesterday, news broke that the Wisconsin supreme court ordered a halt to the John Doe investigation into unlawful collusion between Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign staff and “independent” outside organizations, and further ordered destruction of all the evidence.

The whole deal stinks to high heaven. The same groups that conspired to violate campaign finance laws on Walker’s behalf also spent millions to get a conservative majority of judges elected to the state’s highest court. The very court– indeed, the conservative majority– that voted to protect the conspirators from investigation and prevent the public from seeing the evidence of their crimes. The decision has such broad reach, campaign corruption is pretty much legal in Wisconsin.

That gives you a pretty good look at how things are working in Wisconsin these days. So should anyone be surprised that pipeline companies are now writing special legislation that gives them free rein from local control in the state?

Steve Horn at DeSmogBlog posted a story today about how Enbridge– the folks who gave us the $1.2 billion pipeline spill in the Kalamazoo River– had its lawyers write up a piece of legislation that made its way into the state budget that prevents counties from requiring insurance of pipeline operators. Dane County, the liberal enclave that includes the state capital Madison, was demanding that Enbridge get additional spill insurance (remember: $1.2 billion) as a prerequisite to run its expanded tar sands pipeline through their land. (Enbridge had earlier had its way with the U.S. State Department, getting permission to expand the pipeline without going through a proper permitting process.)

But Enbridge’s fancy handiwork behind the scenes to block Dane County’s insurance demands is how things get done when the legislature, executive, and judiciary are all owned by the same corporate interests.

 

We’re aware of some of the more obvious hazards that rising global temperatures can cause. Droughts, floods, hurricanes, blizzards, wildfires, saltwater intrusion on freshwater aquifers, coastal erosion, famine, refugee crises…. There are many of them, and they are bad.

But how about irradiating a large portion of the Pacific Ocean?

According to The Guardian, nuclear contamination is a pressing risk, owing to the vulnerability of the Marshall Islands. The islands were the home of U.S. nuclear weapons testing– 67 tests in all– and now house the radioactive debris those tests left behind.

The U.S. built a containment facility for the waste materials, an 18-inch thick concrete dome over a seep pit, which is now at risk of cracking open like an egg. Islanders tell reporters from The Guardian that the dome is showing structural damage from brackish (partially salty) water pooling along its seams.

Now locals, scientists and environmental activists fear that a storm surge, typhoon or other cataclysmic event brought on by climate change could tear the concrete mantel wide open, releasing its contents into the Pacific Ocean.

“Runit Dome represents a tragic confluence of nuclear testing and climate change,” said Michael Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University, who visited the dome in 2010.

“It resulted from US nuclear testing and the leaving behind of large quantities of plutonium,” he said. “Now it has been gradually submerged as result of sea level rise from greenhouse gas emissions by industrial countries led by the United States.”

The article is well worth the read, and a frightening look at how climate change could compound problems that were already a catastrophic threat.

 

Even as more than 10,000 demonstrators marched in Toronto for “Jobs, Justice, and Climate,” another report about the effect of the oil market glut shows how Canada’s reliance on tar sands exploitation makes it vulnerable to the economic whims of the global market.

Courtesy: Greenpeace-Canada

The demonstrators were led by Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org, and activist journalist Naomi Klein, who last week was enlisted by Pope Francis to help spread the message that protecting the environment is a moral duty. They were also joined by First Nations leaders, long-time liberal activist Jane Fonda, and venerated Canadian scientist David Suzuki in their march to demand the government stop subsidizing fossil fuels and invest in clean-energy technology, and recognize climate change as a public health issue.

The marchers also touched on the economic short-sightedness of relying on the tar sands as the sole engine of the national economy. As we’ve discussed, the Harper government has monomaniacally committed itself to making Canada “a global economic superpower,” to the exclusion and neglect of other sectors of the Canadian economy.

That all-in commitment to the petro-dollar makes changes in oil prices a critical factor in Canada’s economic health. Nowhere is that picture clearer than in Alberta, home to the tar sands and Canada’s oil industry.

Both the residential and commercial real estate markets in Alberta are taking a beating, and small-business confidence in the economy has dropped right off the table. This analyst, Wolf Richter, says the damage is limited to Alberta– for now– but others predict a cascade effect that could engulf the whole country.

Read the complete article by clicking on the image below.

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TransCanada and the oil industry are making a desperate bid to get Keystone XL approved, going so far as to say that the ignoble defeat of the Conservative Party in May’s provincial election in Alberta is good news for tar sands exploitation.

Last week, the new environment minister from the progressive New Democratic Party, announced that the carbon tax will increase from $15 per ton to $20 next year, and $30 the year after that.

TransCanada’s chief cheerleader for KXL told the industry consultant EnerCom’s “Oil & Gas 360″ that this is good news for tar sands exploiters.* Because stricter greenhouse gas regulations in Alberta means Keystone XL isn’t as bad for the environment, right?

Wrong.

A carbon tax doesn’t mean that the companies have to pollute less. It just means that polluting costs them more. Normally, that would mean they’d have an incentive to reduce emissions. Emit less carbon, pay fewer penalties. Makes sense.

But in tar sands exploitation, there’s really not much they can do to cut back on carbon production. The process is what it is– either dig up the bitumen-impregnated dirt with enormous excavating equipment or pump super-heated steam underground to liquefy the bitumen, and then use and energy-intensive heat/skim process to separate the bitumen from the dirt and clay. The wastewater, now full of carbon contaminants that can evaporate and leach into the air, is then kept in open-air ponds big enough to be seen from space.

A carbon tax doesn’t clean up the process any. It just makes it a little more expensive.

But with President Obama’s final decision on– and nearly certain rejection of– KXL coming up at any moment, you can’t really blame them for trying. They’re desperate, after all.

 

UPDATE 7.2.15 9:23pm

Our friends at Oil Change International, Sierra Club, and Environment America shake their heads and laugh at TransCanada’s gambit. Rob Verger at Vice has their reactions.

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*My favorite part of the article is at the end, where OG360 announces, “The information provided herein is believed to be reliable; however, EnerCom, Inc. makes no representation or warranty as to its completeness or accuracy.” So, please remember, they don’t stand behind any of it. It might all be a big lie. But enjoy it anyway.

TransCanada, the Canadian company that’s seizing private property to build a pipeline that the U.S. doesn’t need, is feeling the sting of lost revenue from the drop in oil prices that continues to benefit consumers but hurts Big Oil. So naturally, workers are taking the brunt of it.

The company announced layoffs of 185 workers– 100 full-time employees and 85 temps– from the department that oversees development of Keystone XL and the Energy East pipeline that would traverse Canada and connect Alberta tar sands to the Atlantic coast of New Brunswick.

While these are the first job cuts for TransCanada, the nation’s oil industry has been hemorrhaging jobs since the market price for oil began its tumbling last year. Industry analysts predict total direct and indirect job losses from the oil sector will total 185,000 by the end of the year. Which could have devastating impact on the Canadian economy.

As we’ve discussed previously, the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper has rightly been excoriated for pinning all of its hopes and energy on making Canada a “global energy superpower.” When the bottom fell out of the oil market, Canada’s economy buckled and now threatens to break. And it may do so because of a bubble in the housing market.

Real estate market analysts say the country was living fat when the oil boom was producing so many jobs, Alberta had to import workers from all over the country. Those workers used their wages to purchase homes in their home provinces, and now that the jobs are gone, their mortgage payments may follow. Canadian banks– there are five big retail banks, and they’re heavily regulated– are feeling the pressure of an impending burst of the housing bubble. This could cause another domino to fall, as seven percent of Canada’s workforce is in the construction industry; people don’t build houses while home values are sinking.

While the Harper government has done very little to invest in green technology (but lavished hugely profitable oil companies with $400 million to “go green”), the provinces have stepped in to fill the breech. Ontario’s Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli wrote in a local paper,

Ontario has the fastest-growing clean tech sector in Canada. We have 2,700 clean-tech firms and employ 65,000 people in the clean-technology sector, generating annual revenues of more than $8 billion.

That’s a valuable lesson for the rest of Canada, and the U.S. Instead of raining cash down on oil companies that already turn very healthy profits and extending commitments to coal companies that cost the taxpayers “approximately $4.4 billion in health care and environmental costs,” Ontario’s investment in green technology is creating jobs and pumping money into the economy.

As TransCanada and the rest of Big Oil throw workers overboard to squeeze every last penny of profit out of a waning industry that threatens to kill us all, refusing to look for better, more productive, job-creating alternatives is just dumb.

A study funded by the Department of Energy released today confirms what environmentalists have been saying for years: the fuels created from tar sands are much more hazardous and carbon-intensive than traditional petroleum-derived fuels.

Researchers from Stanford University and University of California-Davis found that the emissions from tar sands fuel contained about 20 percent more carbon than conventional oil. The well-to-wheel lifecycle comparison was even worse, with tar sands products producing about four times the amount of  carbon emissions that contribute to global warming.

From The Wall Street Journal:

The DOE-commissioned study is the largest to date and sets a new standard, said Adam Brandt, a co-author of the report and an assistant professor at Stanford’s Department of Energy Resources Engineering. “No one has generated a data set as comprehensive as this,” Mr. Brandt said. “It’ll provide greater clarity for the regulatory process,” he added.

The researchers looked at energy intensities from 2008 onward at 27 oil-sands projects in the Western Canadian province of Alberta, using public data from the province’s energy regulator.

This study backs up the Environmental Protection Agency’s statement, released in February, that took to task the State Department’s environmental assessment, which gave short shrift to concerns like spills, water and air pollution, and greener alternatives.

As we noted in February, the more information we learn about Keystone XL and tar sands exploitation, the more we find that President Obama’s 2013 pledge that KXL cannot be in our nation’s interest if it significantly contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.

My prediction is as close to a sure thing as Washington politics can produce.