Keystone XL rejected

by Milan on January 18, 2012

in Civil disobedience, Climate change, Climate science, International relations, Oil sands

The Obama administration has officially rejected the proposed Keystone XL pipeline! That is the pipeline that prompted me to travel to Washington D.C. this summer to volunteer at the protests.

The rejection of the pipeline is good news for many reasons.

By rejecting pipelines, the jurisdictions around Alberta can slow the development of the oil sands and reduce the total quantity of fossil fuels that will be burned. These pipelines are also a major investment in an inappropriate technology. Canada needs to be working on developing a decarbonized economy, not encouraging unlimited growth in the unsustainable business of extracting fuels from the oil sands.

President Obama will probably lose a few votes over this decision, particularly from people who think oil is still the future of energy and who do not care about climate change. At the same time, I am sure he will gain some votes too for finally doing the right thing on this. The choice offered to us by the oil sands is to either profit today in a way that harms future generations or to leave the oil in the ground and invest in safer sources of energy.

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

. January 19, 2012 at 7:48 am

Keystone XL
Still in the pipeline

BARACK OBAMA’S decision last year to put off a judgment on a proposed oil pipeline between Canada and Texas until after this year’s presidential election swept a tricky problem under the carpet. Supporters pointed out that Keystone XL, a pipeline that would carry oil from Alberta’s tar sands, as well as some from America’s Bakken shale fields, would bring not just added energy security but jobs aplenty. Environmentalists would have none of these supposed advantages, decrying emissions-heavy oil from tar sands and claiming that in the event of a leak, the pipeline threatened a vulnerable aquifer on its route through Nebraska.

So the administration’s announcement that it will now slap a big “rejected” stamp on the application from TransCanada, the Canadian company that wants to build and operate Keystone XL, seems to come down firmly on the side of the greens. But Mr Obama is still treading a fine line between the two sides. Thanks to resistance to the pipeline from Republican politicians in Nebraska last year, TransCanada had already offered to reroute it to avoid the Sandhills, a part of the state where the massive Ogallala aquifer rises almost to the surface. The ostensible reason for last year’s delay was the need to study new routes (the unspoken ones being to duck a tough decision and placate the green lobby). The assumption was that the pipeline would eventually be approved in some form, but not at such an awkward time.

Republicans in Congress, however, tried to force the president’s hand by inserting into an important spending bill a clause obliging him to rule one way or another by the end of February. The administration now claims, insouciantly, that it had to rule against the pipeline because the Republicans had denied it the chance to consider all the risks properly. In fact, little has changed. TransCanada can submit a new application for a similar pipeline following a new route, giving Mr Obama the respite he wanted while allowing him to bask in green adulation for now. The Republicans, for their part, can now make slightly stronger attack ads about Mr Obama’s foot-dragging in the run-up to the election in November.

. January 19, 2012 at 8:23 pm

The pipeline would have carried roughly 150 million tonnes of carbon pollution from the tarsands to the U.S. each year, the equivalent of over 26 million more cars on the road, or nearly eight billion tonnes over the life of the project. Today’s decision is, therefore, an important victory in global efforts to tackle global warming, and a clear signal that further tarsands expansion is the wrong direction for our climate, our water and our land.”

— Rick Smith, executive director, Environmental Defence, in an e-mail

Milan January 23, 2012 at 5:09 pm

Regarding the legal and political fight over Keystone XL, this is a worrisome precedent: Trans-Alaska Pipeline Authorization Act.

It’s easy to imagine something like this passing if a Republican wins control of the White House.

. January 25, 2012 at 12:15 pm

Top News
State Dept House Keystone bill raises legal questions
Wed, Jan 25 12:01 PM EST

By Roberta Rampton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A Republican proposal in the House of Representatives that would strip President Barack Obama of his authority to rule on the permit for the Keystone XL oil pipeline raises “serious” legal questions, a top State Department official said on Wednesday.

Obama denied TransCanada’s application for the oil pipeline on January 18 because he said there was not enough time for the State Department to review an alternate route that would avoid a sensitive aquifer in Nebraska within a 60-day window set by Congress.

TransCanada has reapplied for a permit, and Republicans are working on legislation to try to speed its approval for the $7 billion project, which would carry crude from Canada’s oil sands to Texas refineries.

One bill, proposed by Representative Lee Terry of Nebraska, would give the authority to approve the project to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), an energy regulator.

. March 1, 2012 at 8:00 pm

White House Applauds Decision to Build Part of Keystone XL Pipeline

Washington – With President Barack Obama facing fire from Republicans over the rising cost of gasoline, the White House moved quickly Monday to trumpet a Canadian company’s decision to build a section of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline from Cushing, Okla., to Houston after Obama blocked a longer path last month.

Press Secretary Jay Carney hailed TransCanada’s announcement and used it to counter Republican criticism that the administration has stifled oil and gas production. He said that the Oklahoma to Texas section of the pipeline would “help address the bottleneck of oil in Cushing that has resulted in large part from increased domestic oil production, currently at an eight-year high.”

. March 9, 2012 at 11:37 am

Zombie pipeline! Senate narrowly kills Keystone XL — for now

The Senate today voted down legislation that would have paved the way for the construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline — barely. Eleven Democrats joined 45 Republicans to vote in favor of the project, ignoring lobbying from President Obama himself. But the measure needed 60 votes to move forward, so despite support from the majority, it died.

. March 13, 2012 at 7:46 pm

Bitter spill: Leaky Keystone’s economic risks would dwarf benefits

Cornell’s Global Labor Institute issued a big new report [PDF] this morning examining the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, the most comprehensive look yet at its economic impact. And it makes clear just how right President Obama was to block this boondoggle: It would make money for a few politically connected oil companies, but at a potentially staggering cost to the American economy.

For once economists looked at the whole effect of the project. Unlike studies paid for by the TransCanada pipeline company that purported to show thousands of jobs created (a number since walked back to “hundreds” of permanent positions even by company spokespeople), this study asks: What happens when there’s a spill?

Not if there’s a spill. There’s going to be a spill — the smaller precursor pipeline recently built by TransCanada spilled at least 14 times in its first year of operation, once spewing a geyser of tar-sands oil 60 feet into the air. In fact, the new Cornell report estimates that we can expect 91 significant spills over the next half century from Keystone

. March 26, 2012 at 7:36 am

Climate Change Disappears from Keystone XL Pipeline Debate

Mining and using tar sands oil creates more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional oil. But that’s rarely mentioned anymore.

When President Obama traveled to Cushing, Okla. last week to declare his support for building the southern half of the Keystone XL pipeline, he stressed that the pipeline and other oil infrastructure projects would be done “in a way that protects the health and safety of the American people.”

But missing from the speech—and from most recent discussions of the controversial project—was any mention of climate change or the greenhouse gas emissions associated with mining Canadian tar sands.

Climate change was once front and center in the pipeline debate, with federal agencies as well as environmentalists weighing in with their concerns.

In 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency noted in an analysis of the State Department’s draft environmental review of the Keystone XL that a comprehensive evaluation would have to consider the tar sands industry’s greenhouse gas emissions, which the EPA calculated on a well-to-tank basis to be 82 percent greater than conventional crude oil.

. May 14, 2012 at 7:10 pm

Dear Friends,

I haven’t written you about the Keystone Pipeline for several weeks, because I haven’t known quite what to say. But many things are moving, and here’s how the situation seems to me right now:

1) TransCanada, as expected, re-applied for a permit last week from the State Department, and just as they said last November — State said they would have an answer sometime in 2013. An open question is whether or not the State Department will do a real review, and aggressively investigate the climate implications of tar sands oil, which they punted on last time.

Another open question, of course, is whether after the election the President — whomever it may be — could just give the pipeline a green light no matter what. It’s important that between now and then we strenuously and continually emphasize that building this pipeline means more tar sands oil burned, and that the climate change implications of that are unacceptable.

2) The fossil fuel lobby in Congress keeps trying to approve the pipeline without any review at all. John Boehner et. al. said they won’t approve the new transportation bill without Keystone in it; happily, the Senate conferees, led by California’s Barbara Boxer, have pledged not to put the pipeline back in play just to get a bill. (We’re always a bit wary of Washington pledges, but thanks to the 1,800 folks who called her office to let her know there was real support for her position).

3) We also found out that the climate-denying, union-busting, radical billionaire Koch Brothers will be among the prime beneficiaries of the pipeline. It was revealed by intrepid investigative reporting that Koch Industries has been masking their investments in the tar sands, while pumping millions into efforts to push this and other pipelines. None of us deny that some union jobs would be created by this pipeline, but it’s now clear that many more will be put under attack as Koch money pours into the coffers of the radicals seeking to destroy both unions and our climate.

We frankly don’t yet know how this all is going to play out—and it’s frustrating as hell. Leaders in the Senate and the White House have given assurances that they won’t OK the pipeline—the administration even issued a veto threat over the transportation bill if it included Keystone. We’ll see how good those assurances are in the coming weeks, and we’ll let you know if there are politician’s offices we need you to call, email, or occupy.

Of course the Southern leg of the pipeline is already on its way to being built – something our friends in Texas are doing all they can to fight, even as you read this.

Meanwhile, science marches on. Dr. James Hansen reiterated the case against tar sands in the New York Times last week, pointing out that the deposits contain “twice the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by global oil use in our entire history.” If we burn them on top of all the coal and oil and gas we’re already using, “concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere eventually would reach levels higher than in the Pliocene era” – a wildly different and likely unlivable earth.

And politics marches on too. We’re coming to think that it’s at least as important to tackle the fossil fuel industry directly as they try to tackle our win on the Keystone pipeline. Last Thursday Thursday Bernie Sanders introduced a bill that would strip $113 billion in subsidies from coal, gas, and oil companies over the next decade. That’s enough money to weatherize more than half the single family and mobile homes in America. We hope you’ll help: http://www.350.org/subsidies

I don’t know how Keystone is going to come out—but whatever happens, the organizing we manage to do together will have a lot to do with the final result. We’ve learned an awful lot together about how to take on the bad guys. We’ll fight them pipeline by coal mine by fracking well— and surely call on you for more rapid-response actions when the need arises — but we’ve also got to go after the core of their power. That’s what we need to make the next year all about.

Thanks,

–Bill

. December 2, 2012 at 12:11 pm

Obama under pressure to make Keystone decision

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama faces mounting pressure as he embarks on a second term over a decision he had put off during his re-election campaign: whether to approve the $7 billion proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline between the U.S. and Canada.

On its surface, it’s a choice between the promise of jobs and economic growth and environmental concerns. But it’s also become a proxy for a much broader fight over American energy consumption and climate change, amplified by Superstorm Sandy and the conclusion of an election that was all about the economy.

Environmental activists and oil producers alike are looking to Obama’s decision as a harbinger of what he’ll do on climate and energy in the next four years. Both sides are holding out hope that, freed from the political constraints of re-election, the president will side with them on this and countless related issues down the road.

“The broader climate movement is absolutely looking at this administration’s Keystone XL decision as a really significant decision to signal that dirty fuels are not acceptable in the U.S.,” said Danielle Droitsch, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Once content with delays that have so far kept the pipeline from moving forward at full speed, opponents of Keystone XL have launched protests in recent weeks at the White House and in Texas urging Obama to nix the project outright. Meanwhile, support for the pipeline appears to be picking up steam on Capitol Hill

. May 21, 2013 at 11:24 am

How the Keystone XL Pipeline Has Become Too Big to Approve

The past few weeks have brought some surprising developments and contradictions in the Keystone XL pipeline saga. Former Vice-President Al Gore told Canada’s The Globe and Mail that he wished President Obama would cancel the pipeline project. Current Vice-President Joe Biden casually told an activist that he opposes the Keystone XL pipeline, although he’s “in the minority” (echoing his recent gay marriage support ahead of the official change of position by the White House). On Earth Day, Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency criticized Obama’s State Department over the environmental impact review of the Keystone XL pipeline, citing “environmental objections.” And finally, an unnamed U.S. official told Reuters that the president now plans to delay his decision on the pipeline even longer — possibly until 2014. What is going on here? How did a pipeline that was supposed to win approval two years ago become such a contested topic among close allies?

. May 21, 2013 at 11:25 am

“President Obama is a master of symbolism and is certainly highly attuned to the growing meaning behind the Keystone XL battle. With this pipeline, he faces a decision about the economic future of America with outsized symbolic significance: will we go further down the old road of the oil economy — no matter how dirty, dangerous or destructive — or will we take a bold turn toward building a new economy based on low-impact, renewable, domestic energy? The president does not want to make this choice, even symbolically. He knows that approving the pipeline would be wrong for the country and for the planet. But doing the right thing would alienate the most powerful industry in the world and disrupt the very fabric of our oil-based economy. So he drags his feet.”

. May 21, 2013 at 11:30 am

Lines in the Sand
by Elizabeth Kolbert

If the arguments in favor of Keystone are persuasive, those against it are even stronger. Tar-sands oil is not really oil, at least not in the conventional sense of the word. It starts out as semi-solid and has to be either mined or literally melted out of the ground. In either case, the process requires energy, which is provided by burning fossil fuels. The result is that, for every barrel of tar-sands oil that’s extracted, significantly more carbon dioxide enters the air than for every barrel of ordinary crude—between twelve and twenty-three per cent more.

Alberta’s tar sands contain an estimated 1.7 trillion barrels of oil. Assuming that only a tenth of that is recoverable, it’s still enough to generate something like twenty-two billion metric tons of carbon. There are, it should be noted, plenty of other ways to produce twenty-two billion metric tons of carbon. Consuming about a seventh of the world’s remaining accessible reserves of conventional oil would do it, as would combusting even a small fraction of the world’s remaining coal deposits. Which is just the point.

Were we to burn through all known fossil-fuel reserves, the results would be unimaginably bleak: major cities would be flooded out, a large portion of the world’s arable land would be transformed into deserts, and the oceans would be turned into liquid dead zones. If we take the future at all seriously, which is to say as a time period that someone is going to have to live in, then we need to leave a big percentage of the planet’s coal and oil and natural gas in the ground. These basic facts have been established for decades, and every President since George Bush senior has vowed to do something to avert catastrophe. The numbers from Mauna Loa show that they have failed.

In rejecting Keystone, President Obama would not solve the underlying problem, which, as pipeline proponents correctly point out, is consumption. Nor would he halt exploitation of the tar sands. But he would put a brake on the process. After all, if getting tar-sands oil to China were easy, the Canadians wouldn’t be applying so much pressure on the White House. Once Keystone is built, there will be no putting the tar back in the sands. The pipeline isn’t inevitable, and it shouldn’t be treated as such. It’s just another step on the march to disaster.

. September 6, 2013 at 11:19 pm

Harper offers Obama climate plan to win Keystone approval

Sources say PM willing to accept emissions reduction targets proposed by the U.S.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has sent a letter to U.S. President Barack Obama formally proposing “joint action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the oil and gas sector,” if that is what’s needed to gain approval of the Keystone XL pipeline through America’s heartland, CBC News has learned.

Sources told CBC News the prime minister is willing to accept targets proposed by the United States for reducing the climate-changing emissions and is prepared to work in concert with Obama to provide whatever political cover he needs to approve the project.

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